Good Guy With a Gun

Mark Glaze knows guns. The son of a former licensed gun seller from Gunnison, Colorado might seem an unlikely choice for a gun control advocate, yet Glaze, who had spent years as a lawyer, progressive lobbyist and gay activist, found his calling with Mike Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which he helped relaunch as Everytown for Gun Safety. Glaze recently ended his tenure with the organization, and his departure had the unusual distinction of winning praise from both mainstream news outlets -- Reuters credited him with helping build "a leading counterweight to the National Rifle Association" -- and, which praised him as a "young standout." When it came to his many television appearances for the cause, there was virtually no one who could take on Glaze's personality, rock-solid reasoning and advocacy bona fides. I spoke to Glaze in an exit interview of sorts.

Mark Glaze's last day after 3.5 years as executive director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, then Everytown, in our NYC offices, June 13, 2014. Photo credit: Danny porter.

So, James Brady just died and you recently left your position at Mayors Against Illegal Guns -- do you think these events portend, good or bad omens in terms of gun control legislation?

Nobody is indispensable in life, and Everytown's doing just fine without me, which is both a source of pride and a jagged little pill, to quote Alanis Morissette. But Jim Brady was a star to guide your ship by, and I'm not just talking about what he did for gun policy. Here's a guy who was grievously wounded, and had a very tough road back. Nobody would have blamed him for sitting the rest of his life out. Instead he and Sarah, his great wife, spent their lives and their energy in a way that mattered. It took seven years to pass the law that bears their name -- people like me who are in a hurry, to get things done, forget that. But the background check system they helped build, imperfect as it is, has stopped more than two million felons and other dangerous people from buying guns, and no serious person doubts it's saved thousands of lives. How many people can say that? Not me. It was a life well-lived.

As for the state of the movement, it's stronger than it's been in a generation. To start -- there's an actual movement of millions of people who care about this, and not in a "kinda" way, but in a way that has them signing pledges to vote only for candidates who support common-sense gun laws. In a way that has them holding house parties in Kentucky on weekends to sign up dozens of new allies. Not a lot of issues have that kind of energy behind them today. And that's why states with Democratic and Republic governors -- we're talking about the Scott Walkers and Bobby Jindahls of the world -- are signing bills to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. And those victories will beget more and bigger victories in the states, and ultimately in Congress. We're getting there, faster than people think.

What were the high points of your tenure?

No question that helping arrange the merger of Moms Demand Action and Mayors Against Illegal Guns was the high point for me. These moms are the best thing going, in not just our movement, but in any advocacy effort in the country. They're giving us, for the first time in a long time, the chance for symmetrical warfare with the NRA. Because like core NRA voters, they are, to understate the case, intense. They actually get up every morning and care about whether their kids are going to come home safely, and they do something about it, and they are not going away. And the fact that that merger started with a secret meeting in Big Sky, Montana and conversations with Shannon Watts, my colleague Brina Milikowsky and me on a gondola over the summer doesn't hurt. If I had a book in me, which I don't, it would be a cool chapter.

The other high point was passing a universal background check bill in my home state of Colorado. In the relatively short time that bill's been in place, it's already stopped hundreds of prohibited buyers from getting a gun -- every one of them a ticking time bomb. At the same time, 2013 was a banner year for gun sales there. So for me, it's Exhibit A that gun ownership and tough laws to keep firearms out of the wrong hands are totally consistent, and the obvious way forward.

The lows?

After Newtown, when a majority of senators representing a minority of the population blocked what 92 percent of the public, including 74 percent of NRA members and 81 percent of gun owners want: background checks for every gun buyer. It was a low point because we lost, of course, but also because it was one of those moments when it all could have fallen apart -- when people could have lost faith and let the steam go out of the movement and just wandered away. That happens a lot in public policy fights. But instead, they got mad, and got determined, and that loss became the moment that really built a movement. So even that low wasn't so low, in the end.

Why did you decide to you leave?

Like everyone else who worked on guns these past few years, I put a lot of myself into this -- and the "this" started with the Tucson mass shooting, and ran through the Aurora mass shooting, and the Newtown mass shooting, and the tens of thousands of gun murders that happened in those years. And as we were fighting those fights, I think Everytown had a lot to do with breathing life into a dead issue, along with other new organizations. Our own group grew from eight employees to eighty -- most of them in New York City, where I don't live. I loved my job, and the team, but I needed a break from an issue that's emotionally tough. I just spent a week at the beach. I haven't done that in three years.

You've been a lobbyist for a dozen years, do you think that that the system is irrevocably broken?

Badly broken, yes. Completely or irrevocably, no. One of the last consulting projects I worked on before I went to Everytown full-time was a campaign for the Human Rights Campaign aimed at getting the Senate to reverse the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. And we won. Health care reform passed. So big things are still possible, but they're much harder than they should be, and much slower.

The empirical fact is that for great change to happen, great disruption is sometimes needed, often in the form of some cataclysm. Look at money in politics -- which is a blight on our democracy and a national embarrassment. The Watergate scandals -- in which bags of money were literally being delivered to the political party committees -- helped usher in a cohort of reform-minded members of Congress in 1974 who implemented a raft of reforms, including campaign contribution limits. The flood of "soft money" in the 90s led to the McCain-Feingold soft money ban. I don't have any doubt that the Roberts court will continue -- in their friendly, "nothing happening here," incremental way -- whittling away at what remains of campaign finance limits, and the result, sooner or later, will be corruption and scandals that will so shock the system that there will be another wave of reform, sooner than we think.

It's the same with guns. Newtown rebuilt a movement. But it didn't change the federal laws, and there will be another horrendous mass shooting, and another, and another. And some of them will involve gaps in the laws that senators had the opportunity to fix. A felon who avoided a background check by buying from an unlicensed seller on a random website; a high capacity magazine. And sooner or later, Congress will decide they can't defy political gravity forever. And we will have reform.

What would you do to change it?

That's a big question, but one of the major structural problems is the virtual elimination of political competition in Congress. Thanks to self-interested Republicans and Democrats alike -- we're all to blame here -- the number of truly competitive House districts is a relative handful. That means that the majority of seats are safe, there is hydraulic pressure for members in those seats to be more conservative or liberal than moderate, the middle is virtually nonexistent, and compromise is a dirty word and virtually impossible. If I could pick two major and tough reforms, it would be redistricting reform -- each state would have to conduct redistricting through some variant of a nonpartisan commission that would produce more competitive districts -- and, probably, a constitutional amendment that returns to Congress and the states the power to regulate campaign fundraising and spending, including regulating outside groups. It's not the only answer, but until we get the Supreme Court the country deserves, it's a good organizing principal.

What's next?!

I'm consulting on some interesting projects, on my own for now, having some fun and thinking about how to spend the rest of my life. Reader opinions are welcome on that.