Gun Fight

11.13.14 10:45 AM ET

Can God Beat the NRA?

A multi-denominational anti-gun violence group is going to the source: the manufacturers, to change their practices. Gotta start somewhere.

“Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.” Leviticus 19:16

That Biblical passage is the guiding principle for the grassroots organization “Do Not Stand Idly By,” created in 2012 to counter gun violence. Sure, we’ve recently seen a host of new groups tackle this issue, but Do Not Stand Idly By (“DNSIB”) is different for two big reasons.

First, it’s a faith-based initiative spearheaded by Christian, Muslim, and Jewish leaders (although it welcomes people of other or no faiths.) Framing the argument of the need to reduce gun violence in religious terms will undoubtedly move many—possibly even some on the right.

Second, the focus of DNSIB is going to the source. No, I’m not talking the Book of Genesis. I mean the actual gun manufacturers. DNSIB’s mission is to convince gun makers to voluntarily (or by way of some friendly economic pressure) impose changes in its business practices that will hopefully save lives.

“Our focus is not to have an adversarial relationship but to find common ground with gun companies because they, too, want to see gun violence reduced,” explained Oussama Jammal, one of the Chicago-based leaders of the movement and a pillar of the area’s Muslim community.

DNSIB, which is an outgrowth of the nationally known faith-based community activist group Metro IAF, came into existence after the horrific 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. Since DNSIB’s inception, they have recruited more than 60 local elected officials as well as police chiefs to also work with them.

Rabbi Joel Mosbacher, a national co-chair of DNSIB and the head of a temple in northern New Jersey, told me that DNSIB’s efforts are focused on two areas: Technology and distribution. The first component is urging gun manufactures to implement “smart gun” technology, such as weapons not being able to fire unless an authorized user’s fingerprint is detected.

But it’s the second prong, the distribution of guns in our country, that could have an immediate impact on reducing gun violence, noted Mosbacher. On this front, DNSIB seeks to persuade gun manufactures to help track the weapons used in crimes in hopes of finding the source and cutting it off.

Mosbacher, citing statistics from the Brady campaign to prevent gun violence, explained that 60 percent of the guns used in crimes in America are sold by approximately 1 percent of the 10,000 federally licensed gun stores. If DNSIB can target these 100 “bad” gun stores, it could reduce the flow of guns into the hands of criminals.

The problem is this information is difficult to come by. Not because law enforcement is unable to gather it. Rather because in 2003, Congress enacted the Tiahrt Amendments (named after former Republican Rep. Todd Tiahrt of Kansas) that made it a crime for the ATF to reveal this information to the public as well as to state and city officials. (The NRA championed this amendment under the guise of protecting gun owners’ privacy.) But Mosbacher believes that the gun manufacturers have access to this info, and they could work together to ensure that these 100 stores are actually following federal regulations regarding gun sales.

The most powerful weapon on DNSIB’s side may be money. I don’t mean a war chest of funds or a billionaire backer like Michael Bloomberg. Rather, the 60-plus mayors who have signed on to the DNSIB campaign are collectively using their economic clout to encourage gun makes to become more “socially responsible,” i.e., using smart technology, disposing of used guns responsibly, etc.

So how is it been going so far? Well on the upside, an increasing number of mayors have joined the movement, including those from bigger cities such as Atlanta, Hartford, and Jersey City. That translates into more economic leverage.

In fact, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop just last month became the first mayor to ask gun companies bidding for the city’s $500,000 guns and ammunition contract to respond to a series questions about their efforts to counter gun violence. That info was utilized to determine which company was ultimately awarded the contract.

However, meeting with the CEOs of gun manufacturers has been challenging. In fact, earlier this week the organization tried to meet with gun makers in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Georgia and submit a request for information (RFI) about the company’s business practices. The RFI posed questions such as: “How does the company respond when one of its firearms is found to have been used in a crime?” and “please provide a detailed overview of the company’s activities and goals with respect to gun safety technologies.”

DNSIB’s New York City-based leaders attempted to meet with Stephen A. Feinberg, the CEO of the equity firm Cerberus Capital Management that invests heavily in two major gun makers. They are following the money, so to speak. They were left waiting in the lobby.

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Mosbacher, however, met with more success in Connecticut, where his group was able to meet with an attorney for the gun company Sturm, Ruger & Co. The company lawyer promised to deliver the RFI to executives and vowed to help schedule a meeting.

Mosbacher, whose own father was killed by gun violence years ago, explained that the leaders of this movement are just getting started. “Faith calls us to do justice,” Mosbacher noted.

Obviously it will take more than just faith to succeed against the likes of the NRA. Most would agree that as soon as DNSIB sees more success, the group will find itself in a vicious battle with better funded and more powerful pro-gun forces. Thinking of the challenges facing these faith-based leaders, I can’t help but think of the Bible story of David versus Goliath. Does anyone have a slingshot you can lend them?