Words cannot even begin to express how deeply disturbed and saddened I am by the unimaginable horror that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School today. The images of young children running for cover and parents panicking behind police tape wondering whether their kids were safe will stay with us for a very long time. It is events like this that reaffirm how precious life really is and makes you stop to reflect on how fortunate you are to have the ones closest to you. It is also events like these that initiate a public outcry for solutions to prevent tragedies like this from happening in the first place. On every social media platform today the sentiment was unanimous horror and rage, with the most common theme being: How can we prevent all of this gun violence?
This is a question that I posed to President Clinton during a Q&A session earlier this year at the Sustainable Operations Summit (SOS). For those not familiar, SOS is a conference I produced that brought together leadership from the public and private sector to discuss cost effective solutions to address energy and climate. I had this question as a backup if we somehow had additional time to fill mainly because gun policy was once again a relevant topic in the wake of the Travyon Martin shooting, and locally in NYC where the summit was held with four NYPD officers being shot in the line of duty.
Prior to taking the stage President Clinton and I had a brief chat, and to my surprise, he indicated that he would very much like to address this topic during our exchange if we had the time. I was anxious about not being able to cover the topics that were central to the summit (energy retrofits, climate policy, etc) but of course wanted to pose the questions that the former President found interesting to answer. So I was relieved when I got through my questions and found that we had a few minutes remaining for this off-subject topic. I simply asked President Clinton if he believes we should have stricter federal gun laws, which I knew was a loaded question, and would therefore yield a lengthy response. He acknowledged that mental health is just as important an issue to debate when referring to mass shootings and emphasized the fact that most all gun owners are law abiding citizens. But he did stress that unless the voters actually vote for candidates who support stricter gun laws, we will never see any change, and that is because the gun lobby is too powerful and most politicians when seeking election cannot afford to battle them. He said:
You will never get any action on this until it's just as big a voting issue for the people who are for responsible gun measures... as it's for the people who are against it.... I don't know how many conversations I have had with people like you who say: I just don't understand it! 65 percent of the people were for closing the gun show loophole. Why won't they do that? I'll tell you Why. Because of the 65 percent only 10 percent will vote against you if you disagree with them. Of the 35 percent who don't want it closed, 30 percent of them will vote against you. So the real poll is not 65 percent to 35 percent for (closing the loophole), it's 30 percent to 10 percent against. And not many politicians can lose 20 percent of the vote and still win an election. So if you really care about this don't ask the politicians why they don't have any guts... ask their voters why it's not a voting issue for them!
The President's suggestion was that if you are really serious about the issue, get an initiative on the ballot:
You can make it a referendum, and if you spend the money, the time and the effort, you will make more progress quicker by putting it on the ballot and trusting gun toters who like to hunt, but don't like it when innocent people get killed to do the right thing for their own people.
If the outrage and disgust in my Twitter and Facebook feeds today is any indication, support for sensible new gun measures (especially an assault weapon ban) should be easily attained through these measures. It's time for meaningful discussion and action on how we can prevent gun related violence, and if history is any indicator we can't expect our politicians to lead this fight... it's up to us.
Full video of the exchange between President Clinton and me from the Sustainable Operations Summit can be found below: