Open Source Defense

We met the former president of the Brady Campaign. At SHOT Show. Here’s what happened.

Kareem Shaya
February 19, 2020   |   5 minute read

The most surprising meeting we had at SHOT Show this year didn’t happen at the show. It happened in a hotel room. I went up there with Chuck Rossi (a fellow Open Source Defense cofounder) at the invitation of Rob Pincus. Rob invited us and a half-dozen others up there, to tell us about a group he’s starting called the Center for Gun Rights and Responsibility.

He’s starting it with Dan Gross. Until 2017, Dan was the president of a different group. That one you’ve already heard of. It’s called the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

We’re an open-minded bunch here as OSD, and we love engaging tough questions. But we went in a bit wary. Curious, but unsure. Though after Dan’s speech at a 2A rally in November, we were open to a chat.

What followed was a 90-minute conversation between Dan, Rob, and the eight or so others in the room. CGRR’s mission is “to conduct and advocate for strictly non-legislative educational and awareness projects aimed at reducing negative outcomes with firearms”, and based on what we talked about, suicides and accidents seem to be a particular focus. The personal stories from other people in the room on that front were striking. There were a number of vets there, and all had lost multiple friends to suicide. One said he’s had 15 friends commit suicide.

(Our own BJ Campbell has written extensively on the suicide problem. As he points out, two-thirds of deaths-by-gun are suicides, and seven-eighths of those suicides are men. So counterintuitively, the plurality of the “gun deaths” problem is in fact more precisely described as a men’s health problem. BJ expounds on that here.)

CGRR is just launching, and working on projects to encourage people with suicidal ideation to get help and to have a friend hang on to their guns. Their main proposal is called GunPRO, a pledge where when a newbie buys a gun, they have a friend sign on to teach them gun safety and another friend sign on to be a helping hand if they ever feel their emotional state isn’t safe.

Gun restrictions tend to make those kinds of transfers harder, and that’s where things get interesting. CGRR, and Dan in particular, are aware that when the former president of the Brady Campaign comes in with ideas about solutions for gun problems, we’re going to squint hard at it.

And I have to say, we were impressed. Dan entered the lion’s den — in a hotel room at SHOT with a group of people who without exception vehemently disagree with the work he spent 20+ years doing — and spoke openly, empathetically, and with real interest in how gun owners feel.

Throughout the conversation, I could see him deliberately putting his personal opinions to the side and focusing exclusively on the things we could all agree on — that non-legislative, non-coercive, purely voluntary efforts to reduce suicide and promote safety are positive. Not an easy thing to do. This is a guy who got into gun control after his brother was wounded in the 1997 Empire State Building shooting.

So this brought up the question that we all had for him: why? Less than three years ago, Dan ran one of the biggest gun control groups in the country. Why drop that? Why disavow so much of the way that those groups approach guns and gun owners? of the tactics that those groups use? That about-face carried serious personal and professional costs.

Dan explained that one of his biggest frustrations in his gun control activism was when people on his side would demonize gun owners. He ultimately had to change his approach because he realized the old approach wasn’t moving the conversation anywhere. And that meant leaving his former position behind.

Granted, that’s easier for him to say (and do) in a room with a bunch of gun rights people at SHOT than when he was running Brady. And to be sure, he’s not joining OSD or any other gun rights group anytime soon. But he’s extending an olive branch and willing to focus exclusively on finding things we can all agree on.

At one point, I explained OSD’s thesis that it’s historically impossible to survive as an unpopular minority, and that therefore everything we do is designed to make gun owners either more popular, not a minority, or both. In short, we want to make more gun owners.

Dan’s reply surprised me. I’ll have to paraphrase, because I didn’t record exactly what he said, but it went something like this: “CGRR doesn’t take any particular position on guns, so we’re not specifically trying to make more gun owners or less gun owners. But as long as our work reduces negative outcomes with guns, if that ends up making more gun owners, then I’ll sleep very well at night.”

Not something you expect to hear from the former president of the Brady Campaign. Dan checked his ego at the door in a brave and remarkable way, and we could all stand to do that more. Stick to your principles, but be willing to speak openly with anyone who shows up in good faith. We’re keeping a close eye on Dan and Rob’s group as they launch it. I encourage you to do the same.

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