I grew up with guns. One gun, my grandfather's WWII Colt M1911, looms large in my memory. My father tells the story of one night when Grandpa got drunk and shot a hole in the wall of his small house in Martins Ferry, Ohio. The tale was a warning: don't be stupid. I took it to heart.
My father taught me shooting safety and took me to plink cans down by the Ohio River. In high school we went to the range. I grew up and left, later ending up in New York City where I stopped thinking about guns. In the safest place imaginable, rural Ohio, I was armed to the teeth. In the City of Sin I was without a piece.
Now, living in Brooklyn, I don't want a gun. And I don't want my kids to see guns. And I don't want anyone near me to own a gun without going through a thorough and strict system of controls.
This is because we went from a nation of conscientious gun owners to a nation full of people who never learned the lesson "Don't be stupid." And it's gotten worse. Guns are a right defined by the Bill of Rights, but that right needs to fit the time.
There are two ways the gun control debate can play out. There can be an all-out ban - and I suspect the next decade will bring this to pass thanks to the millennial vote - or strict controls.
Startups can help. They can build guns that can only be fired by their owner. They can build a better gun lock. They can build fintech products that require gun owners to maintain liability insurance. They can help create registries that allow sellers to cross check law enforcement lists. All of this is doable in the near term and all of this can be implemented as fast as it takes to ship a Kickstarter project.
It's not just guns. Startups can help address the state of mental health assessment. Instead of building the next great photo sharing network, please consider addressing a problem that matters.
We have to want it.
But here's the thing: all of these controls are anathema to a true gun lover. They say smart guns, for example, failed because the question of "What if?" overran the question of "Am I safe?" What if I'm away, gun lovers argue, and my kids need to shoot a burglar? What if the system doesn't work? These breathless questions ignore the real reason controls exist: to ensure we are not stupid with our guns.
Startups can't do it alone but they can help get things moving. Those techies are a powerful group, that if united under a common goal can stand tall against the powerful gun lobby in Washington.
Tech should use its massive influence to curtail the power of the NRA and the sway it holds over our politicians. Because this is the bottom line: if you don't believe that logical checks or an outright ban can stop gun violence, then you are unequivocally in support of mass shootings. We have done nothing over and over and it hasn't helped. Now it's time to do something.