Finding Common Ground: A Debate on Gun Control in America

Thumb Gun Control min
Thumb Gun Control min

Does Stricter Gun Legislation Offer an Effective Solution or False Hope? 

By Gareth Glaser, Co-founder and CEO of LodeStar Works, and Allan and Sheri Rivlin, CEO and President of Zen Political Research

Gareth Glaser (CEO of LodeStar Works) and Allan and Sheri Rivlin (CEO of Zen Political Research) debate gun control.

Gun Control Won’t Solve Our Problems

By Gareth Glaser – Co-founder and CEO of LodeStar Works

If one were to believe everything they see on TV, guns in the U.S. are practically unregulated. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just ask anyone who has gone into a Federal Firearms Licensed (FFL) gun shop to buy a gun. Or anyone who has ordered a firearm online—which must be delivered to a local FFL for pick up. Or anyone who has visited a dealer at a gun show. In each case, you must submit to a background check by completing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Form 4473, which the FFL will run through the ATF’s online system. Misrepresentation on a Form 4473 is a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison.

Why am I opening with this? Because the vast majority of gun owners obey the law and submit to a background check every time they purchase a gun. The people who don’t—criminals who cannot pass a background check—will not change their behavior just because additional restrictions, such as limits on certain types of firearms or magazines, are imposed. These individuals already are obtaining their guns illegally via straw purchases (i.e., someone else is buying the guns for them) or theft.

Gun Control Is Not the Solution  

The arguments for additional gun control regulation boil down to one simple fact: there are 400 million guns in civilian hands in the U.S. and guns are implicated in over 40,000 deaths per year, whether from suicide, homicide, or accident. It is a noble mission to try to reduce these deaths as much as possible. But the track record of federal, state, and local governments in addressing this is worse than dismal. This is primarily for the reason mentioned above: law-abiding gun owners are not the problem.  

These gun owning citizens—comprising 40% of American households—fight back against gun control activists who brand them as irresponsible or worse. And the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of it is on their side. In other words, gun owners feel victimized by all the rhetoric surrounding gun control, not least of which is the latest version which characterizes gun violence as a public health issue. Public safety, yes, but public health? Is gun ownership a pandemic?

Looking Beyond Failed Approaches

This situation has been deadlocked for decades. LodeStar Works, a smart gun company I co-founded, was created with the idea that a better way to address the needless deaths and injury involving firearms is with technology. “Smart guns,” or guns that use personalized authentication technology, ensure that only the owner or authorized person can unlock the firearm. This technology can immediately prevent hundreds of deaths of small children, school shootings by underage teens taking a family gun to school to harm themselves and others, and suicides using someone else’s gun. Equally important, a gun outfitted with this technology is useless to a thief who is unable to unlock it. As statistics show that most guns used in crime and homicides are stolen or illegally obtained, smart guns accordingly offer a sensible solution.

An apt comparison to smart gun technology would be the development of passive restraints and airbags in automobiles. Passive safety technology, whether in a car or in a gun, is superior to other approaches, such as safe storage or trigger locks, because it does not require a change in human behavior. Human beings are imperfect. Even the most well-intentioned make mistakes. Most of us would say that we are good drivers. But can anyone reading this honestly say they have never contributed to a car accident?  

LodeStar believes that innovation around gun technology is the future. We will prove there is a market for it so that other firearm manufacturers also will start to use technology to make guns safer. Smart guns offer a non-political middle ground that many from both sides of this debate can agree on. 

Gareth Glaser (CEO of LodeStar Works) and Allan and Sheri Rivlin (CEO of Zen Political Research) debate gun control.

We Must Find Common Ground to Reduce Gun Violence

By Allan and Sheri Rivlin – CEO and President of Zen Political Research

We have sympathy for Mr. Glaser, who wrote the first part of this exchange before two consecutive California—mass shootings in Monterey Park (in which 11 were killed) and Half Moon Bay (in which seven were killed)—yet again thrust the issue of gun violence to the top of America’s front pages and news feeds. The tragedy of guns in America is that such incidents cannot be viewed as extraordinary.

Mr. Glaser’s opening post offers reason for hope that we can find common ground on the gun issue and stand against any false, unrealistic, or extreme points of view. We can agree that it is necessary to correct anyone in the group Mr. Glaser addresses as those who “believe everything they see on TV” with regard to the misconception that firearms are completely unregulated in America. We hope we can also agree to push back in the other direction against the widely held view that common sense gun regulation is impossible, or that any effort to regulate firearms is a first step on a slippery slope toward confiscation of all guns by an illegitimate and corrupt government.

We Can’t Talk About Solutions Without Diagnosing the Cause 

In using the passive voice to assert that this situation “has been deadlocked for decades,” the subject of the sentence is obscured. It is more accurate to say Republicans and the gun manufacturers’ lobby have worked to deadlock gun legislation for decades. It seems the gun manufacturers’ lobby has enough political clout to block all potential new gun laws—even compromise measures that are supported by overwhelming majorities of American voters. However, from time to time, as happened in 2022, Democratic and Republican political leaders find common ground to pass legislation designed to reduce the harm guns cause. Mr. Glaser cited some statistics and we could add many more to make an indisputable case that the United States stands alone among developed nations for the number of firearms held by the public, and for the number of injuries and deaths they cause.  

There are four major approaches to reducing the harm of gun violence: regulation, law enforcement, technology, and public health/public safety. Mr. Glaser suggests the regulatory approach has failed to solve the problem and that technology offers hope. In contrast to this either/or approach, we believe the problem is so great that all available approaches should be tried and perfected.

Legislative Work Remains Unfinished 

The question remains whether regulation has been tried and failed or whether this approach has been thwarted. As Mr. Glaser notes, gun dealers who hold FFL licenses must do background checks and file paperwork for all gun sales. But this does not mean we have universal background checks for all gun purchases. A buyer who wants to avoid a background check can still go to a gun show in their own state and buy from an unlicensed dealer or individual (that is, if their state is not one of the 22 states plus Washington, DC, that has chosen to close the “gun show loophole” through state or local regulation). Gun regulation continues to be a political and legal battleground pitting those seeking to reduce gun violence against those seeking to maximize gun sales. 

In addition to universal background checks, other potential regulatory approaches could include limitations on the manufacture and sale of certain types of guns, ammunition, and accessories. Following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre (in which 26 were killed, including 20 first graders), there were renewed efforts to pass bipartisan legislation that proposed requiring universal background checks and banning the manufacture and sale of certain types of semi-automatic firearms and high-capacity magazines. Following the 2017 Las Vegas shooting (in which 58 were killed and at least 413 wounded), there were bipartisan suggestions to ban “bump-stock” accessories, but Republicans blocked all these suggestions in Congress.

Mr. Glaser dismisses the public health approach too easily with a rhetorical distinction between health and safety, as if chronic back pain caused by a workplace accident is not both a health and safety issue. He is right to say gun ownership is not “pandemic.” Given that the U.S. is the only developed nation with such high rates of gun ownership, the proper term would be “epidemic.” We say “yes” to new gun technology, better regulation, stronger law enforcement, and public health and safety analysis and intervention.

Increased Gun Control Will do More Harm than Good

By Gareth Glaser – Co-founder and CEO of LodeStar Works

​​I am grateful for the opportunity to reply to Mr. and Ms. Rivlin’s response to my piece. Mr. and Ms. Rivlin began their response with the latest spate of mass shootings in California. While incidents in which four or more people are shot grab headlines and result in calls for more gun regulation, mass shooting deaths comprise less than one percent of the annual number of gun-related deaths in the United States. Furthermore, California has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, so it is hardly a model for additional gun regulation. 

Mr. and Ms. Rivlin have not addressed the central point of my piece, which is that most gun owners in the United States are law-abiding citizens, and further attempts to regulate guns will disproportionately affect them—not the criminals who will continue to evade such laws. The salient point is that Americans watch the news and see the increase in crime and lack of judicial punishment. Buying a gun is a reasonable response.

It is also a knee-jerk reaction to propose bans of certain types of firearms or accessories—most of which show at best a limited understanding of terms as simple as “semi-automatic” or “modern sporting rifle.” It should be no surprise that the gun industry opposes potentially onerous limitations on the products that it makes and sells legally. What industry wouldn’t? 

On the issue of public health versus safety, the distinction I am making is a finer one. That is, there is a difference between mitigation of disease and injury control. It is for the latter that I am proposing a technological solution. And in that respect, I believe the comparison with automobile safety is relevant. When safety technology was introduced to the automobile itself, the numbers of automobile deaths fell significantly.

For all sides to come together, I believe it is critical for gun control advocates to learn more about the gun-owning community. Lodestar Works is an integral part of that community and is working hard to improve gun safety.

Understanding and Compromise is Possible

By Allan and Sheri Rivlin – CEO and President of Zen Political Research

We’ve learned there are always arguments against compromise, but when two sides seek common ground, the arguments can melt away. This happened last summer when a bipartisan Senate supermajority passed a law expanding background checks for younger gun purchasers. The purpose of the law was to incentivize state “red flag” laws to allow court removal of weapons from threatening individuals and restrict gun sales to convicted domestic abusers. It passed the House with votes from Progressives and the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.

The NRA opposed the legislation because it could “infringe upon the rights of law-abiding Americans,” but this time many Republicans voted for common sense gun reform despite total opposition from this group. Mr. Glaser writes, “It should be no surprise that the gun industry opposes potentially onerous limitations on the products that it makes and sells legally. What industry wouldn’t?” He answers this question by relating how the auto industry embraced government safety regulations.

The aforementioned 2022 breakthrough happened weeks after a white supremacist killed ten African-American shoppers in Buffalo and 19 children were killed in Uvalde, Texas. We bring up mass shootings not because they are a significant proportion of firearms deaths, but because Republicans only express openness to bipartisan compromises after headline-grabbing tragedies. Republicans often discuss potential reforms only until the news cycle changes with no action taken. It’s disappointing that Mr. Glaser did not find common ground in exploring any specific reforms we listed that were discussed but not enacted following past tragedies. It’s true universal background checks and bump-stocks restrictions would affect law-abiding Americans and be ignored by lawbreakers. But is this not true of all laws? If you make murder illegal, only murderers will kill people.

Mr. Glaser concludes that “it is critical for gun control advocates to learn more about the gun-owning community.” One of us conducted countless focus groups and surveys with gun owners and gun safety groups as a former pollster. We learned gun owners are far more supportive of many specific reforms than the gun manufacturers’ lobby claims. Nevertheless, we agree that an understanding of the views of gun owners, and other Americans, is necessary for finding common ground on gun control.

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Gareth Glaser
Co-founder and CEO, LodeStar Works | Website

Gareth Glaser is co-founder and CEO of LodeStar Works, a company dedicated to developing and commercializing the first successful "smart gun,"  a firearm that will only shoot if unlocked by an authenticated user. Prior, Glaser was part of the leadership team that took Alcon Laboratories public, helping it become one of the world’s largest eye-care pharmaceutical and surgical companies. After Alcon’s IPO, Glaser left the company and developed an interest in gun injury while working with injured veterans as an instructor at an adaptive ski school. This led him to apply for a fellowship at Harvard where he dedicated a year to develop a plan to address gun safety, which was the inspiration for LodeStar Works.

Sheri and Allan Rivlin min e1657014154542
Allan and Sheri Rivlin

Allan Rivlin and Sheri Rivlin are the CEO and president, respectively, of Zen Political Research, a public opinion, marketing research, and communications strategy consulting firm founded in 2015. They are the son and daughter-in-law of Alice M. Rivlin, and since she passed away in 2019, they have been working to complete her final manuscript, “Divided We Fall, Why Consensus Matters” was published in October 2022 by Brookings Press.

1 comment

Tom March 10, 2023 at 8:56 am

Really like getting different perspectives. Thank you.


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