The Battle Against Gun Violence Being Fought at the Grassroots

By Thalif Deen

NEW YORK (IDN) — A sign outside a gun store in the United States was dead on target: “We sell guns to every Dick, Tom and Dirty Harry.”

Clint Eastwood, one of Hollywood’s enduring tough guys, played the role of the maverick San Francisco cop “Dirty Harry” in the 1971 crime thriller in which he took the law into his own hands trying to track down a serial killer on the loose. Described by some critics as a fascist movie, “Dirty Harry” helped Eastwood climb the top of the box office charts.

In one of the final sequences, he gives the killer one last chance as he menacingly aims a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum revolver at him: “This is the most powerful handgun in the world,” he warns, “And it will blow your head right off, you punk.”

The movie, which did more for the oversized Magnum than any gun show in the United States, was a favourite among gun-lovers, including some of the lobbyists in the National Rifle Association (NRA) which has relentlessly campaigned for the constitutional right to the legal possession of guns by Americans.

But much of the violence—and most recently in New York City—is largely the result of the widespread availability of illegal guns.

And in the US, “Everytown for Gun Safety” is the leading organization for the prevention of gun violence at the grassroots level.

In an interview with IDN, Mahen Gunaratna, the Chief Public Affairs Officer and Senior Vice President at Everytown for Gun Safety, said the organization’s messaging—spread across marketing and branded campaigns—will be a combination of traditional communications, digital media, and grassroots marketing.

He pointed out that the organization has two main grassroots affiliates, ‘Moms Demands Action’ and ‘Students Demand Action’, totalling over eight million supporters nationwide.

“The grassroots work complements extensive work underway at all levels of government—from town halls and school boards up to the White House, as well as in corporate America, in the courts, and at the ballot box— to change how the American public thinks of, and deals, with this public health threat,” he added.

Asked about the upsurge in gun violence, Gunaratna said “there are many drivers of increased gun violence, but the one thing that’s clear is that there are proven steps we can all take to bring the number of shootings and fatalities down, ranging from safe storage of firearms to passing common-sense gun safety measures at the local, state, and federal level.”

“For too long”, he pointed out,” the gun lobby blocked even the most basic safety measures, but thanks to the work of over eight million supporters nationwide, the gun safety movement has made unprecedented progress”.

Through victories at town halls and school boards, in statehouses, in corporate America, in the courts, and at the ballot box, Everytown has helped change how to continue building on these victories and reduce the scourge of gun violence across our nation, he declared.

An American of Sri Lankan ancestry, Gunaratna is a former Communications Director for Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey, and who plans to bring his State Government, Electoral and Capitol Hill experience to the country’s largest gun safety organization.

Gunaratna has advised federal, state, and local candidates and elected officials on communications strategy for nearly 14 years.

While working for Governor Murphy, he led communications efforts on two landmark gun safety bill packages that were signed into law, as well as a third pending legislative package on gun safety.

Prior to his current role, he served as Florida Communications Director for ‘Hillary for America’. He also served in a number of roles for former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and on both of President Obama’s presidential campaigns.

“With his deep experience at every level of government, Mahen is the right person to help Everytown spread the word about our work to pass lifesaving laws, create a culture of gun safety, and hold the gun industry accountable, both in the court of public opinion and the court of law,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety.

“I’m excited to work with Mahen, who joins Everytown on the heels of spearheading the communications around two landmark gun safety bill packages in New Jersey, which were passed with help from our grassroots army of volunteers,” he noted.

Last month, ‘Everytown and Moms Demand Action’ celebrated a major win for gun violence prevention as the current Biden-Harris Administration finalized a rule that will require “ghost guns” to be treated like the deadly weapons they are.

In the US, there are an estimated 250-280 million firearms. But it is not possible to tell how many are illegal weapons.

According to the America Gun Facts website, the US has more guns than any other nation in the world—and that number continues to grow each year.

“After fighting for their independence, the founding fathers enshrined Americans’ right to firearms in the Second Amendment. This spirit of personal freedom and liberty has carried down through the years and is evident in America’s gun culture today.”

Because of this Constitutionally guaranteed right, Americans own more guns per capita than any other country.

Credit: Every Town for Gun Safety

Meanwhile, New York City, which was on a virtual lockdown for nearly two years because of the Covid-19 pandemic, has now been hit by a crime wave. The rise in crimes has been attributed mostly to illegal guns that have flooded the city.

Speaking at a press conference following the April 12 mass shooting at a Brooklyn subway station that left 23 people injured, NYC Mayor Eric Adams was emphatic when he said: “This is not only a New York City problem. This rage, this violence, these guns, these relentless shooters, are an American problem.”

According to Cable News Network (CNN), there has been a surge in gun violence in the US, with more than 140 mass shootings taking place this year alone.

Adams sought federal assistance to combat gun violence when he hosted a summit with President Joe Biden on public safety last February. Responding to demands to cut funding to the Police, and speaking at police headquarters, Biden said: “The answer is not to defund the police. It’s to give you the tools, the training and the funding to be partners and to be protectors.”

A former police captain, Adams said: “We are not going to return to the era of heavy-handed policing. But we also can’t return to the era of the 2,000 homicides a year.”

Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, who is chairman of the US House Oversight and Reform Committee investigating gun violence, said “a small number of gun dealers are disproportionately responsible for flooding our streets with guns that are used in crimes”.

A report by the committee said a small percentage of gun stores accounted for 57 per cent of firearms that ended up in the hands of criminals through illegal resale or direct purchases by “straw” buyers who turned them over to people barred from owning guns. [IDN-InDepthNews – 04 May 2022]

Thalif Deen is a former Director, Foreign Military Markets at Defense Marketing Services; Senior Defense Analyst at Forecast International; and military editor Middle East/Africa at Jane’s Information Group, USA.

Photo: Mahen Gunaratna, the Chief Public Affairs Officer and Senior Vice President at Everytown for Gun Safety. Credit: Office of the Governor of New Jersey.

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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