In the face of the Trump administration’s failure to battle COVID-19 or take meaningful action in response to this summer’s national reckoning on systemic racism, an overwhelming majority of Americans are now looking to the corporate world for much-needed leadership on critical issues facing our country. Those issues increasingly include not only COVID-19 and racial justice, but another crisis that is raging in our communities as the federal government fails to act: gun violence. According to a new nationwide poll by my organization, gun safety organization Giffords, Americans expect companies to speak out and take a stand on gun safety.
Gun violence hasn’t stopped during the pandemic—it’s gotten worse. Victims of domestic violence are stuck at home with their abusers, unemployment is leading to increased risk of firearm suicide, gun homicides have spiked in cities across America, and police violence continues to devastate communities. As with COVID-19 and unconstitutional policing, Black communities are disproportionately impacted by gun violence, with Black Americans four times more likely to die from firearms than white Americans.
In recent months, we’ve seen the impact it can have when companies take a bold stand against racial injustice, or halt their own production in order to manufacture personal protective equipment for healthcare workers. CEOs have an opportunity—and an obligation—to use their power, their platform, and their business to act on gun violence too. Taking a stand on gun safety is the right thing to do. And as new data shows, it’s also a business imperative in today’s America.
First, polling shows that since the onset of COVID-19 and the recent racial justice protests, Americans overwhelmingly believe companies have the power and responsibility to influence social change. For example, 8 in 10 people believe companies should take action to address important issues facing society and 9 in 10 believe companies should have a core set of values built into their business models. From protecting frontline workers to combating discrimination, Americans view the private sector’s responsibility as even greater when our government is failing to meet a challenge.
Second, consumers expect companies to take a stand on gun safety in particular. Nearly 85% of Americans believe businesses have a responsibility to make their communities safer, and 7 in 10 say they would be more favorable to a company who partnered with gun violence prevention organizations to raise awareness. With more than 90% approval of common sense gun safety measures like universal background checks, businesses that use their power to save lives can expect to see more loyal customers.
Polling shows that more than half of American consumers, and nearly 7 in 10 millennials, would be more interested in buying products from companies that are actively working to reduce gun violence as opposed to companies that aren’t. Only 6% said they would be less interested. It’s past time to dispel the myth that common sense gun safety reforms are polarizing. There is broad consensus among Americans—except for a vocal minority—that advocating for lifesaving gun safety legislation is the right thing to do, creating little downside risk for companies to get involved.
Third, taking action on gun safety can help companies attract and retain a happier, safer, and more loyal workforce. Nearly 8 in 10 Americans say they would be proud to work for a company that plays an active part in finding a solution to gun violence. This sentiment is particularly strong among young people, with 65% of millennials saying they would be more interested in working for a company that was active on gun safety, whereas only 7% would be less interested. A majority of employees are demanding real, meaningful, lifesaving progress and know that their employers have a role to play.
To be sure, we will not solve this issue until elected officials have the courage to act and pass lifesaving legislation into law. And while no company can serve as a replacement for legislation, private sector leaders have been driving major progress on gun safety in other ways in recent years that have had real impact and saved lives. Levi Strauss & Co. has championed federal background check legislation, Toms Shoes has funded advocacy groups and violence intervention programs, and PayPal and Citi have made it harder for those who failed background checks to purchase guns illegally. It’s time other companies followed their lead.
That’s why, as the gun violence epidemic in America worsens, Giffords will be making it a priority to invite more companies to join us in this fight. We’re committed to highlighting the power of stepping up and speaking out, to collaborating with companies to develop a playbook on gun safety advocacy that works, and to helping companies find the courage it takes to fight gun violence in America with everything they’ve got.
Peter Ambler serves as the executive director of Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence, which he cofounded with former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, retired Navy Captain Mark Kelly. Giffords has emerged as a leader in the gun violence prevention movement, inspiring Americans from all walks of life to take action on our nation’s gun violence epidemic.