In an opinion column, Watts argues the need for a culture to stigmatize guns.
In the weeks since the Navy Yard shooting, the 17th mass shooting of 2013, those of us in favor of common-sense reforms have been told repeatedly that we are losing the fight. The inaction of Congress has been deemed the death knell of gun reform by both the gun lobby and the media.
It’s true that Congress refuses to move on guns. We tried in April and the vote in the U.S. Senate came up short – despite pleas from Newtown and Aurora families, as well as moms like myself who know our children are safer when guns are responsibly regulated.
But the people who say all is lost on gun reform seem to think the only path to changing our laws and culture is through federal legislation. Make no mistake: We’ll continue to work hard to get Congress to pass background check legislation, but until Congress gets its act together or we get a new Congress, we’re continuing the fight elsewhere. We’ve taken the struggle for reform to American businesses – and we are winning.
When Mothers Against Drunk Driving began in 1980, drinking and driving was a generally accepted and more regular occurrence. But slowly, after tragic accidents and much heartbreak, MADD helped change the way Americans thought about alcohol and driving. Due to a newfound stigma and legal liability, Americans created the concept of “designated drivers,” bartenders started calling cabs for customers, police set up drunk driving checkpoints during happy hour traffic, and state legislatures started passing laws that made driving under the influence a criminal act.
That same type of cultural shift must happen with guns. There is little stigma attached to customers bringing gun with them to the grocery store. There is no liability for gun owners who negligently shoot someone else or whose gun is used to cause harm. Thanks to hard work from the gun lobby, gun manufacturers are not held liable for their products. As a result, manufacturers have no financial incentive to make product improvements that would prevent injuries and save lives.
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is working hard to affect this shift. Members across the country are educating other moms about the lax gun laws and policies that contribute to so much senseless death in America. And we will continue our work one law at a time, one business at a time, until the culture shifts back toward responsibility and safety.
Slowly, we’re making progress. In September, Starbucks, formerly known as a friend to gun enthusiasts, reversed its policy of allowing guns inside its stores. Previously, the store had refused to take a stand on banning guns and, as a result, gun advocates armed with everything from Glocks to semi-automatic rifles regularly met at local Starbucks. These blatant displays of intimidation and bullying were intended to normalize open carry. The approach backfired. After months of pressure from Moms Demand Action – including our “Skip Starbucks Saturdays” – Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced that guns were no longer welcome in the chain’s 12,000 coffee shops.
When Schultz told gun groups that they were no longer welcome in stores, he earned back the business of moms across the country and took an important stand as a business leader. Starbucks has set an example for other businesses across the country and shown them that it’s ok to stand up and acknowledge what study after study has shown – we are all safer when guns are not present.
With the Starbucks win behind us, we're moving on to another national brand: Staples. While some individual Staples stores have elected to keep guns out, the company doesn’t yet have a policy to ban guns in its stores nationwide. Given a recent accidental shooting in a North Carolina Staples, we think it’s time the company step up and say that firearms don’t belong in their stores. Moms are intensifying our efforts to hold the company accountable to do the right thing and will be doing more in the weeks and months ahead until they put the safety of their communities and their customers first.
We’re not giving up on our politicians in Washington– but we’re not waiting around for them either. We are going to keep fighting for reform, putting our money where are principles are and supporting those businesses that act in the interest of customer safety.
The one thing we’re not doing is listening to the naysayers who have given up. The stakes are too high – and the damage too great – to sit back and hope things will change.
Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.