As many as 50 people—50 men, women and children—might still be alive today if the common-sense gun policies supported by 80% of the American public were in place.
That’s right. Fifty people today, 50 more tomorrow, 50 every day after that, might still be alive if we were acting on what we know to be true.
For someone of my age, this fight for life through the adoption of responsible gun policies recalls other fights for life through common-sense regulations. Fights including automobiles and tobacco.
Take automobiles. Today, about 35,000 people die annually as a result of automobile-related accidents. That’s tragic, but consider that if automobile fatalities per mile were occurring at the same rate today as they were in the year I was born, those 35,000 deaths would not be 50,000, not 100,000, not 200,000, and not even 300,000. They would be closer to 400,000 people each year.
Back then, seeing this carnage, nobody talked about banning cars. But they did come to demand common-sense
regulations. Seat belts became required; so did airbags. You were required to pass a driver’s test. (How, I ask, do you justify requiring a test to drive a car and not a test to shoot a gun?) You have to get your license renewed every five years. There are fines for traffic violations and sometimes suspension of your license.
Make no mistake. These common sensed regulations didn’t come easily. Car manufacturers complained about the cost of some of the safety devices. Drivers complained about being "forced" to use seat belts. But the evidence prevailed. So did common sense. So did public will.
Or take tobacco.
What if people were smoking today at the same rate as when I was a teenager in the mid-1950s? Almost half the population smoked then, compared to 15% smoking today. If that rate of smoking still prevailed, and if the linkage of smoking to mortality remained about the same, up to one million more people might have died last year from smoke-related diseases. Instead of what is still a tragedy of almost 500,000 people dying from smoke-related illnesses, the death toll could be closer to 1,500,000.
Believe me, getting common-sense regulations for cigarette smoking was a decades-long battle. If you think the NRA is a strong lobby today, you should have seen the tobacco lobby. It supported politicians committed to the industry. It supported medical conventions and encouraged doctors to recommend cigarettes; I’m serious. It lobbied against research to establish the linkage of smoking and cancer. But we kept getting more data linking smoking to cancer, just as we are today on the linkage of guns to gun-related deaths.
As a result, warning labels were mandated on cigarette packages. Age limits were imposed on the purchase of tobacco; advertising was regulated to shield children from its influence; excise taxes were increased.
What drove these changes in automobile and tobacco regulation? There was increasingly compelling data and research. Above all, this research showed that automobile and tobacco related fatalities werematters of public health.
We came to recognize that whether a person smokes is not just a private issue. It's a public health issue.We learned the damaging impact of secondhand smoke.
We recognized that how a person drives a car is not just a private issue. It affects others. It can kill others. So we insisted that you had to have a license and demonstrate you were able to drive.
Just as with tobacco and automobiles, owning a gun is not only a private matter. It is also a matter of public health. Tragically, we witness that every day. So just as with tobacco and automobiles, use of guns must be regulated responsibly.
Importantly, changes in behavior resulting from the regulation of tobacco and automobiles also changed the “culture.” It is no longer “cool” to smoke. When I joined Procter & Gamble, there was an ashtray in front of every board seat. You would walk into a store or restaurant and it could be “cool” to be smoking. Movie stars were portrayed smoking; men and women. No longer.
It’s no longer “cool” to drive without a seatbelt. It’s stupid. That’s what strong social movements can do.
Culture changes impact everything. Including business. Businesses stepped up to forbid smoking on their premises and encourage safe driving habits.
We’re seeing businesses step up on the gun issue. Walmart has banned the sale of assault weapons and now has increased the age to 21 at which one might buy a rifle. Dick’s has done the same thing. Rental car companies and airlines like Delta have stopped giving preferred discounts to members of the NRA. Kroger has banned the sale of large magazines.
Businesses are getting the message.
I urge you support businesses which are adopting responsible gun policies. Let them know that’s why you’re shopping there. And let those which aren’t adopting similar policies know you’re going to support their competitors.
Focus on electing candidates who support responsible gun policies and rejecting those who don’t. Nothing counts as much as your vote. Demand to know exactly where a candidate stands on universal background checks, keeping guns out of the hands of people who have been involved in domestic violence and banning assault weapons and large magazines.
The wind is at our back on this, but it’s going to be a continuing battle.I’m inspired how young people are taking the field. Let us be worthy of their commitment.
As I said at the outset, as many as 50 men, women and children might still be alive today if we had adopted responsible gun regulations. This estimate is not a matter of sheer speculation. Nineteen state already require background checks for ALL gun sales. In these states, we are seeing up to a 40-50% lower incidence of gun deaths linked to domestic abuse, suicide and involving law enforcement officers.
These facts don’t call for banning guns. They don't call into question the practices of millions of responsible gun owners. They don’t deny any reasonably interpreted right conferred by the Second Amendment. They do call for common-sense regulations of the kind we have applied to automobiles and tobacco. Regulations that recognize that having a gun today is not only a private matter; it is a matter of public health. Let’s act on what we know to be true. Let’s demand that legislators, business leaders, everyone do the same. Let’s start saving lives. We can do this.
*This an edited transcript of a talk I gave to a rally of "Moms Demand Action" in Cincinnati, Ohio on March 25 2018