Gun Safety: How Leaders are Partnering Up to Shift Culture
When it comes to gun reform in the United States, where do we even begin? From the rise of mass shootings to domestic violence, you’ve most likely experienced some form of gun violence in your lifetime if you’re American. It’s everywhere—and the toll on the nation is tragic.
A recent report by Everytown estimated that there will be 113,000 people shot this year alone—that’s 310 people per day. 36,000 of those people will be shot to death. According to another study, 90 percent of all women killed with guns in high-income countries in 2010 were from the United States. While 97% of Americans support universal background checks, we still can’t seem to pass a bill to support gun violence prevention.
It’s time for agencies, brands, and nonprofits to spread the word and enact meaningful change. We sat down with Carolyn Everson, VP of Global Marketing Solutions at Facebook, Kristin Lemkau, Chief Marketing Officer of JPMorgan Chase, and artist-activist-father Manuel Oliver in The FQ Lounge @ Cannes Lions where they called upon leaders to shift our culture around gun safety. You can watch the full panel discussion here and read on for the Q&A.
Carolyn: Can you both tell us about your story and why you’re here?
Manuel: My name is Manuel Oliver. I’m the father of Joaquin Oliver. I lost my son in the Parkland shooting. I happen to be here to present my story in a way that becomes part of the solution. I’m not here for you to feel sorry for us. I’m [in Cannes] to get all the creative, amazing, powerful people together to work along with us. Our story, a total tragedy to our family, is now becoming a lesson to our nation. As much as I enjoy being here because of my background in creativity and advertising, the main reason I’m here is to promote a new brand mission that is called Joaquin Oliver. Hopefully, in these next four days at Cannes, we will be able to send the right message and get more and more people involved. My wife and Joaquin’s mother, Patricia, is here, too. We’re working together on this new mission that our life has given us. I’m glad that we’re here today.
Kristin: I believe everyone will have their “woke moment” with this issue. If you’re here, you’ve probably already had it. For me, it was the Newtown shooting. I had always been sympathetic [to this cause] but when that happened, I suddenly felt like it wasn’t happening to other people. It was happening an hour away from my house. My kids were in first grade and pre-school at the time. They both went into lockdown. My son had anxiety just from the lockdown.
That weekend, I drove out to Newtown and I helped form what became The Sandy Hook Promise, which is another important organization that was founded by families out of Newtown. The more I got involved, the more I learned, the angrier I got, and the more I understood that our industry and the skills we have can be a pivotal source of change for this cause. I know how to shape a narrative and that’s what this issue requires. This issue requires a massive cultural change.
There are several big lies associated with this issue that people with our talents can influence and change. One of them is, “the good guy with a gun can stop the bad guy with a gun.” If you’re a data-driven marketer, then you should know that all of the data shows that that idea is absolutely not true. The second big lie is about taking away Second Amendment rights. None of that is true, either. Nobody is thinking about taking anybody’s freedom or changing the Constitution. This is just about safety. The third big lie is that a gun in the home makes you safer. All the data will tell you otherwise. A gun in the home is 18 times more likely to be used against you. Three-fourths of shooters use a gun from inside the home. All of us talented people in Cannes can have a meaningful impact on changing culture and attitudes about people and guns.
Carolyn: What will it actually take to make progress on this issue in the country?
Manuel: I think that this is a solvable problem, but the solution is not in Washington. If it was, it would have been solved many years ago because this is not a new issue in America. We need to change social behavior. And that’s why I’m here: to get brands on board. The NRA is just one brand. There are many other brands with way more influence over people. And they’re already on our side—they just aren’t raising their voices loud enough. We need to promote that call to action from big guys. That will for sure solve the problem, even if it’s slow. I prefer that solution, even if takes a few years than a temporary solution coming from Washington that another politician can easily reverse if they disagree. We see that happening every single day if you live in the United States.
Patricia and I live in the United States and, by the way, we’re planning on staying in the country because our family now has a life sentence. We’re not going to leave the city and country that killed our son. I’m not blaming the whole society, but a big part of society is the problem.
Bottom line is that we need to change our culture. Some people told me that that’s not possible. I think it is because it has already happened with the tobacco industry, for instance. Our duty is to bring big influencers onto our side and make sure we’re expanding their message. We need to raise their voice and show their good side. That will move society in the right direction.
Kristin: It’s been politicized around those three big lies. The issue has turned into something that has become a third rail instead of an absolute moral imperative. That’s why I’ve found such a passion for this cause because it needs to be depoliticized.
There needs to be social change. Nothing will happen in Washington. The backgrounds check bill has been dead upon arrival in the Senate. They won’t vote on it. They won’t talk about it. Even if the bill is passed, there are still 300 million guns in this country. It will take time to change people’s attitudes about it. So what we’re trying to do is look for places where we can find common ground. The Ad Council is a great example. The campaign to end family fire was brilliant because it was about safe storage, which is a huge part of the problem. If you have young children and they go over to someone else’s house, please ask if there’s an unlocked firearm in that house. They are much more likely to die from an accidental shooting than they are swimming in the pool or from an overdose.
It’s time to get brands involved, at whatever level they’re comfortable with. From saying, “Gun violence in America is a problem and the current solutions aren’t working,” to asking, “What is it that my business can do to speak out?” Businesses in the past have helped change narratives around gay marriage, smoking, and obesity. Now, they can help get people, particularly gun owners, to accept responsibility for the firearms in their home.
Carolyn: You’re wearing several pins, Manny. One of them says “Gun Safety-Certified.” Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re trying to do with that?
Manuel: Absolutely. It’s exactly what it says on the pin. It’s a gun safety certification that brands can receive. Some of these brands are already on board. I can mention a few: Levi’s, TOMS, DICK’s Sporting Goods. They’ve already made that move and it’s gone pretty well for their businesses. We need to promote that better.
The certification is a common-sense six-step program that everyone should do. It includes universal background checks, banning assault weapons, large-capacity magazines, and a few other easy steps that don’t come anywhere near the Second Amendment. It’s not about removing guns from you unless you prove you’re not qualified anymore.
You could have a gun. But you don’t need one. There’s a gun lobby that keeps promoting that you need a gun to protect yourself. Well, the truth is, you don’t. I don’t have a gun and even if I had one the day of the Parkland shooting, it wouldn’t have been possible for me to save my son. He was inside a school two miles away from where I was at the time. We’re promoting this gun safety certification so that it becomes part of brands’ marketing. At some point, people will decide where to buy and who to listen to. That will create a whole new progressive way of thinking and changing our culture.
Carolyn: The distinction between “gun safety” and “gun control” is important. If we can get more people to use that language, it will become a reality and gain momentum. Can you talk about the importance of language, finding the middle lane, and what you would ask of people in terms of their involvement?
Kristin: If you’re at Cannes Lions, you can come to our creative hackathon. We’re inviting the creative community to contribute to defining what it means to become gun safety-certified and getting more brands on board.
Language is important. Using “gun safety” matters. “Gun control” got twisted to mean “taking away people’s freedom.” Think about how perverse that is. “Family fire” is another piece of language that we think will make a difference. As much publicity as mass shootings get (and they should), most shootings and gun deaths actually happen in the home. Just look at the 8 shootings a day that happens with kids and teens in the home. A lot of these deaths are impulse suicides from kids who happen to find a gun and act on an impulse. The phrases “family fire” and “gun safety” are just a few examples of where our industry can start depoliticizing, turning narratives around, changing people’s views around guns, and finding common ground.
Manuel: I’ve learned recently that when you say, “gun control,” a few people won’t listen to your message. But, when you talk about “gun violence,” everyone agrees with you. Even gun owners listen because gun violence is attacking all of us. It’s random. It impacted my son and my family, but it will impact another 100 families today, according to statistics.
Carolyn: What inspires you and Patricia to keep going, Manny?
Manuel: The inspiration is Joaquin Oliver. We are his parents and we refuse to stop being his parents. We lost Joaquin, but Joaquin has not lost us. He still has his mom and dad here. I’ve been an artist my whole life. I didn’t turn myself into someone who will fight politicians. I’m a creative dude who loves to paint and, now, I’m just changing the message of my paintings. We started painting walls all around the nation.
We believe that this is beyond Parkland and beyond schools. We’re not fighting for safe schools. We think that schools should be safe like every other place. It’s a much bigger picture. We started traveling, creating art, and it turned out that we connected with the kids.
Do you know who really has the power in America? The youth. They are the generation that is not stopping. I’m really blessed to hang out with hundreds of kids just like my son Joaquin. Every single day, Patricia and I pray in the morning, we support each other, and we say, “let’s go.” If it’s in France, we go there. If it’s in DC, we go there. We keep going, no matter where, because we’re on a mission to make change happen.
Kristin: There are people who are hugely sympathetic but don’t know what to do. According to the stats, 97 percent of people support universal background checks. Most gun owners are highly responsible. They don’t like being demonized or told by liberals what to do with their guns. And so, finding that common ground is incredibly important.
The intent behind the Family Fire campaign was aimed at gun owners. If you have a gun, just lock it up. Be responsible about it. If you believe you need a weapon to protect yourself even though the data says otherwise, it’s your right. But make sure you’re going to be responsible. The safest thing to do is secure the firearm inside the home. Like most issues, connecting with the people in the moveable middle will be what changes this.
Shelley: Can we identify warning signs to prevent gun violence from happening?
Manuel: Violent rhetoric on the internet is an issue that happens in every single country but, in our country, there is access to guns. That’s why it always ends up becoming a gun problem. The issue is that access is easy. The man who murdered my son was probably a dangerous guy. I believe, of course, that he showed that anger to the world. But, he was also still able to purchase an AR-15 rifle. As much as I think he’s 100 percent guilty, we need to prevent civilians from being able to purchase killing machines.
Kristin: The Sandy Hook Promise has a program called “Know the Signs” that teaches kids to identify the warning signs. Sure, you can know the signs, but the difference between our country and every other country is that you can buy a killing machine and take it to school or anywhere else.
Carolyn: We’ve made a difference in many other social issues. Marketing and advertising are the single best way to change culture. If any group of people should know how to create greater gun safety, it is the collective will of the people in this room.
Thoughts and prayers are nice, but they’re not enough. We inspire the change we want to see in the world when we come together to devote our time, skills, and resources to the causes we care about. The more people who join the movement, raise their voice, and take a stand, the sooner the epidemic of gun violence will end. As Shelley Zalis, CEO of The Female Quotient, always says, “Leadership isn’t about age; it’s about action.”
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