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TED2016

Dan Gross: Why gun violence can't be our new normal

February 17, 2016

It doesn't matter whether you love or hate guns; it's obvious that the US would be a safer place if there weren't thousands of them sold every day without background checks. Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, makes a passionate, personal appeal for something that more than 90 percent of Americans want: background checks for all gun sales. "For every great movement around the world, there's a moment where you can look back and say, 'That's when things really started to change,'" Gross says. "For the movement to end gun violence in America, that moment is here."

Dan Gross - Gun-control activist
As president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Dan Gross seeks to cut US gun deaths in half by 2025. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
OK, so, confession:
00:12
I've always been weirdly
obsessed with advertising.
00:14
I remember watching
Saturday morning cartoons,
00:20
paying more attention to the commercials
00:23
than to the shows,
00:25
trying to figure out how they were trying
to get inside my head.
00:26
Ultimately, that led me to my dream job.
00:29
I became a partner
at a big New York ad agency.
00:31
But then, all of that suddenly changed
on February 23, 1997,
00:35
when my little brother Matt
was shot in the head
00:41
in a shooting that happened
on the observation deck
00:44
of the Empire State Building.
00:47
Suddenly, my family was thrown
into the middle of a nightmare,
00:49
being told that my brother
was going to die,
00:54
actually being given the opportunity
to say goodbye to him,
00:59
then several emergency brain surgeries
01:02
and now what's amounted, for Matt,
01:05
to a lifetime spent courageously
recovering from a traumatic brain injury.
01:07
He is definitely my hero.
01:14
But as much as (Applause) --
yeah, deserves it --
01:16
(Applause)
01:19
But as much as this tragedy
was a nightmare for my family,
01:24
I often think about how much worse
it could have been;
01:30
in fact, how much worse
it is for the 90 families every day
01:32
who aren't as fortunate,
01:37
who lose loved ones -- brothers,
sisters, sons, daughters, parents.
01:39
They don't all make national headlines.
01:45
In fact, most of them don't.
01:48
They go largely unnoticed,
01:50
in a nation that's kind of come to accept
a disgraceful national epidemic
01:52
as some kind of new normal.
01:58
So I quit my job in advertising
02:02
to try and do something about
this disgraceful national epidemic,
02:04
because I came to realize
02:10
that the challenges
to preventing gun violence
02:11
are actually the same ones
that made me love advertising,
02:14
which is to try to figure out
how to engage people.
02:18
Only instead of doing it to sell products,
02:20
doing it to save lives.
02:23
And that comes down to
finding common ground,
02:25
where what I want overlaps
with what you want.
02:30
And you might be surprised to learn,
when it comes to gun violence,
02:34
just how much common ground there is.
02:37
Let's look, for example,
at people who love to hunt,
02:39
a sport enjoyed by millions across the US.
02:42
It's a proud tradition. Families.
02:46
In some places,
02:48
the first day of hunting season
is actually a school holiday.
02:49
What do hunters want?
02:53
Well, they want to hunt.
They love their guns.
02:55
They believe deeply
02:57
in the Second Amendment right
to own those guns.
02:58
But that doesn't mean
there isn't common ground.
03:01
In fact, there's a lot of it,
03:03
starting with the basic idea
of keeping guns out of dangerous hands.
03:04
This isn't about taking
certain guns away from all people.
03:10
It's about keeping all guns
away from certain people,
03:15
and it's the people that, it turns out,
we all agree shouldn't have guns:
03:18
convicted violent criminals,
domestic abusers,
03:21
the dangerously mentally ill.
03:24
We can all appreciate
03:27
how Brady background checks
have been incredibly effective
03:28
in keeping guns
out of those dangerous hands.
03:31
In 20 years, Brady background checks
at federally licensed firearm dealers
03:33
have blocked 2.4 million gun sales
03:37
to those people that we all agree
shouldn't have guns.
03:41
(Applause)
03:45
And whether you love guns or hate guns,
you probably also appreciate
03:49
that there shouldn't be thousands
of gun sales every day
03:53
at guns shows or online
03:56
without those Brady background checks,
03:58
just like there shouldn't be two lines
to get on an airplane --
04:00
one with security
and one with no security.
04:03
And --
04:06
(Applause)
04:07
And the numbers show the overwhelming
agreement among the American public:
04:10
90 percent of Americans support
expanding Brady background checks
04:14
to all gun sales -- including
90 percent of Republicans,
04:18
more than 80 percent of gun owners,
04:21
more than 70 percent of NRA members.
04:23
This is not a controversial idea.
04:25
In fact, only six percent
of the American public disagrees.
04:27
That's about the percentage
of the American public
04:31
that believes the moon landing was a fake.
04:33
(Laughter)
04:35
And it's also about the percentage
that believes the government
04:37
is putting mind-controlling technology
in our TV broadcast signals.
04:40
That's the extent to which we agree
about background checks.
04:44
But what about the 300 million guns
04:47
already out there in homes across America?
04:50
Well first, it's important to realize
04:53
that those guns are mostly
in the hands and homes
04:54
of decent, law-abiding people
like you and me,
04:59
who want what we all want --
including keeping our families safe.
05:02
In fact, that's why more and more people
are choosing to own guns.
05:06
Ten years ago, 42 percent
of the American public
05:10
believed -- incorrectly -- that a gun
makes your home safer.
05:14
Today, that number is 63 percent.
05:19
Why?
05:23
I kind of hate to say it,
05:24
because it gets to the dark
underbelly of advertising,
05:26
which is if you tell
a big enough lie enough times,
05:28
eventually that lie becomes the truth.
05:31
And that's exactly what's happened here.
05:32
The corporate gun lobby
has spent billions of dollars
05:34
blocking the CDC from doing research
into the public health epidemic
05:37
of gun violence;
05:40
blocking pediatricians
from talking to parents
05:42
about the dangers of guns in the home;
05:44
blocking smart-gun technology
and other technology
05:46
that would prevent kids
from firing parents' guns
05:48
and would save lives.
05:51
They're desperate to hide the truth,
05:53
because they view the truth
as a threat to their bottom line.
05:55
And every day,
06:00
people are dying as a result.
06:01
And a lot of those people are children.
06:03
Every day in the US,
06:05
nine kids are just shot unintentionally.
06:08
900 children and teens
take their own lives every year.
06:12
And here's the thing:
they're almost all with a parent's gun.
06:17
Even two-thirds of school shootings
happen with a gun taken from the home,
06:21
including the terrible tragedy
06:28
at Sandy Hook.
06:29
I meet so many of these parents;
06:31
it's the most heartbreaking
part of my job.
06:33
These are not bad people.
06:36
They're just living with the unimaginable
consequences of a very bad decision,
06:39
made based on very bad information
06:44
that was put into their minds
by very bad people,
06:47
who know good and well
the misery that they're causing,
06:50
but just don't care.
06:53
And the result is a nightmare --
06:56
not only for families like mine,
06:58
but for, really, at the end
of the day, all of us.
07:01
But I'm not here to talk
about the nightmare of gun violence.
07:05
I'm here to talk about our dream,
and it's a dream we all share,
07:08
which is the dream
of a better, safer, future.
07:11
For my organization,
for the Brady Campaign,
07:13
that dream is reflected in the bold goal
07:16
to cut the number of gun deaths
in the US in half by 2025.
07:19
And I hope to leave
all of you here tonight
07:23
with a strong sense of exactly why
that dream is so absolutely within reach.
07:26
Because folks,
07:32
for every great movement around the world,
07:33
there's a moment
where you can look back and say,
07:36
"That's when things
really started to change."
07:39
And I'm here to say
07:42
that for the movement
to end gun violence in America,
07:44
that moment is here.
07:47
(Applause)
07:50
We are so clearly at a tipping point,
07:55
because the American public
has come together by the millions
07:58
like never before,
based on that common ground,
08:01
to say, "Enough."
08:04
Enough of the mass shootings
in malls and movie theaters
08:05
and churches and schools.
08:08
Enough of the daily terror
of gun violence in homes and streets
08:10
that's claimed the lives of women
and young black men
08:15
in staggering proportions.
08:18
Enough of easy access to guns
08:20
by the people that we all agree
shouldn't have them.
08:22
And enough of a small group
of craven politicians
08:24
putting the interests
of the corporate gun lobby
08:27
ahead of the people
they have been elected to represent.
08:29
Enough.
08:32
(Applause)
08:34
And the really exciting thing is,
it's not just the usual suspects like me
08:40
that are saying it anymore.
08:44
It's so much bigger than that.
08:45
And if you want proof,
08:47
let's start where most conversations
in the US seem to start --
08:48
with Kim Kardashian.
08:52
(Laughter)
08:53
And here's the thing:
it's not really a joke.
08:55
I mean, think about when issues change.
08:57
It's when they go from being
political and advocacy issues
08:59
to being part of pop culture,
09:01
voices coming from everywhere,
celebrities using their platforms,
09:03
musicians, athletes.
09:06
The NBA has come forward.
09:08
Conservative pundits that you never
would have imagined
09:09
have come forward.
09:12
There's real cultural change --
09:13
I even hear there's a TED Talk
about it this year.
09:15
That's the extent to which
this cultural change is happening.
09:17
And yes, Kim Kardashian has made
an unsolicited passionate appeal
09:22
to her 35 million Twitter followers
09:26
for expanded background checks.
09:29
Let's look at the political elections
that are heating up.
09:31
This used to be the classic
third-rail issue for Democrats.
09:34
Couldn't run from it fast enough.
09:37
Now candidates are running on it.
09:39
Some are being forced
to reverse very bad positions
09:40
they defended very comfortably,
until very recently.
09:43
For somebody like me,
09:48
watching people wave around
their negative NRA ratings --
09:49
it's almost surreal to watch.
09:54
We're still outfunded, yes,
by the corporate gun lobby,
09:58
and ultimately that needs to change.
10:01
But you know what?
10:04
We're smarter and we're scrappier,
and we have the truth on our side.
10:05
And we're on offense.
10:09
You know, they say that the Internet
democratizes information.
10:11
Social media and some
of the organizing tools that plug into it
10:15
have democratized activism.
10:18
It's allowed us to show what 90 percent
support really looks like.
10:20
Sometimes I think of it --
10:24
you know, we're converging
and attacking instantly by the millions,
10:25
kind of like white blood cells.
10:28
It's enabled us to start to really
close -- and this is the bottom line --
10:30
close that disgraceful disconnect
10:34
between what the American public wants
10:37
and what our elected leaders
are doing about it.
10:39
Until recently,
10:41
the narrative in Congress
was that calls from the other side,
10:43
from that six percent,
10:46
outnumbered calls from our side 10 to one.
10:47
We're flipping that narrative on its head.
10:51
After that recent terrible tragedy
in San Bernardino,
10:53
we jammed Congressional switchboards.
10:55
We put 15,000 calls
into Congress in 24 hours.
10:57
And you know what?
11:02
We got a vote on a bill
11:04
that nobody thought was going to see
the light of day anytime soon.
11:05
We're seeing real movement
to repeal some of the most evil,
11:08
ugly gun lobby legislation
passed over the last dark decade.
11:11
The stranglehold of the gun lobby
is clearly being broken.
11:16
We've seen President Obama's
historic executive actions.
11:19
They don't go all the way,
11:22
but they are going to save lives,
11:23
because they expand
Brady background checks
11:25
to thousands of gun sales
that didn't have them previously.
11:27
And we're marching across the country --
we're not just waiting
11:31
for Congress to act; that would almost
be the definition of insanity.
11:34
We're marching across the country,
11:37
state by state, marriage-equality style.
11:39
And you know what? We're winning.
11:41
Congress is almost always
the last to wake up and realize
11:43
that it's on the wrong side of history.
11:47
And when they do, it's always
because the American public shakes them.
11:49
And that's exactly
what we're doing right now,
11:52
as we're in this tipping point.
11:55
You know, recently I was flying
cross-country to give a speech
11:56
to a large group like this,
although far less intimidating,
12:00
and the woman sitting next to me
happened to be binge-watching
12:04
one of my all-time favorite
TV shows, "Mad Men,"
12:07
a period TV show about advertising
12:12
in the 1960s.
12:15
And as I was trying to think
about how to end my remarks,
12:16
I'd glance up at her screen
every now and then,
12:20
and it seemed that every time I did,
12:22
I'd see somebody smoking
in an office or around children
12:25
or while pregnant or drinking and driving
12:29
or driving without seat belts
or sexually harassing a coworker.
12:31
And ultimately it dawned on me:
12:35
what tremendous inspiration
12:38
to those of us who have this dream
to end gun violence.
12:39
I mean, think about how much
the world has changed
12:43
in a relatively short period of time,
12:46
how all those behaviors that were once
considered commonplace or normal --
12:49
some even glamorous or sexy --
12:52
have become stigmatized
in just a generation or two,
12:54
once they became conversations
about our common ground.
12:59
That is the magnitude of the change
we have the potential to create
13:03
around gun violence.
13:08
And that's my dream,
13:10
that maybe someday,
13:11
some period TV show will depict
the terrible nightmare of gun violence,
13:13
and a future generation of children
might only be able to imagine
13:18
how terrible it must have been.
13:22
Thank you.
13:23
(Applause)
13:25
Thank you.
13:30
(Applause)
13:32
Thank you.
13:33
(Applause)
13:34

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Dan Gross - Gun-control activist
As president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Dan Gross seeks to cut US gun deaths in half by 2025.

Why you should listen

"For too long we've been playing Mister Nice Guy," says Dan Gross, who takes an unapologetic stance against gun violence in the United States. As leader of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, he's fought a fierce battle in favor of background checks and against "bad apple" firearms dealers. Through aggressive media campaigns, he leads the charge to transform the nation's conversation on guns and gun safety.

Gross's activism stems from personal tragedy: in 1997, his brother was permanently disabled in a shooting at the Empire State Building, inspiring Gross to found the Center to Prevent Youth Violence (now known as PAX).

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