If there's one thing we can finally all agree upon, it's that offering hopes and prayers mean absolutely nothing when it comes to combating gun violence. But other than politicians finally getting the message to stop with the platitudes, how much can realistically happen to address gun violence? And what can tech realistically do about it?
Everyone's tweets and posts condemning the NRA and the politicians who carry their water are fine, but they don't do much more than make you feel a little better and demonstrate to your friends that you're on the right side of the issue. This is an incredibly difficult issue to impact politically, but there are three tangible ways where tech can make a difference.
1. Put our money where our mouth is. Under intense pressure, we've started to see major corporations like Delta and Enterprise back away from partnerships with the NRA. That's great. But it shouldn't apply only to the Fortune 500. Back in October, the property and casualty startup Lemonade (Disclosure: Tusk Ventures is an investor in Lemonade) restricted its coverage of guns, refused to cover assault rifles, and limited the amount it would pay out for damage or theft of firearms to $2,500.
Lemonade is a highly valued startup, which means it faces tremendous pressure from investors like us to grow and scale as fast as possible. When you deliberately limit the number of homes you can insure solely for ideological and policy reasons, you're limiting your potential growth. That's very hard to do in this culture we've created. But to their credit, Lemonade did exactly that, its investors agreed with the decision, and it helped set a precedent for larger insurers like MetLife to follow suit. Today's Lemonades are tomorrow's MetLife's, so the more startups are willing to sacrifice customers and revenues to make a point, the more that becomes the norm down the road.
2. Continue to develop smart gun technology. Some startups and some VCs have invested real time and money in smart guns, but it's still a niche industry at best. And yes, creating new guns that only work when the proper owner is using them won't change the fact that we already have 300 million guns in this country. But eventually, today's new guns become tomorrow's standard guns. Expecting GOP-controlled states or Congress to require smart guns is unrealistic today. But continued development of the technology combined with a strong push in states like New York or California or Illinois that already are trying to address gun violence could translate into better rules in states like Nevada, Florida and Texas tomorrow.
3. Change the inputs. All of the talk about the NRA's political contributions is missing the point. The NRA's strength isn't in its wallet – it's in its control of the small number of voters who actually participate in primaries. When only 10 to 20 percent of voters bother to cast a ballot in Congressional and local legislative GOP primaries, a very high percentage of those voters are NRA members. Politicians aren't stupid. They know who actually shows up to vote – and their actions reflect it. If turnout were consistently 50 percent or 70 percent, the NRA would still have roughly the same number of members voting in each primary but their impact would be drastically diluted.
The only solution to that (and, by the way, to all of the dysfunction and polarization plaguing our country) is mobile voting. If we use the tool sitting in all of our pockets to make it convenient and easy for people to vote, they will. We've already seen this when we've mobilized customers for startups like Uber and FanDuel to advocate against bad regulations. And by conducting voting over blockchain (as some startups like Voatz in Boston are now doing), we not only dramatically increase participation and change the inputs for elected officials, we also make our system far stronger and more resistant to hacking and interference. Virtually no one in politics is going to voluntarily support a new system that makes it easier for someone to come along and take away their job. So if mobile voting is going to happen, it's only because of tremendous effort and investment from tech.
When it comes to gun violence, tweets and posts are just modern day equivalents of thoughts and prayers – nothing. From changing business practices to forcefully advocating for better gun technologies to changing the way we vote to dilute the power of groups like the NRA – and the same holds true for the many left wing groups that control Democratic primaries – it takes material effort, involvement and action.
There's not nothing you can really do. There's actually quite a lot you can do. Now we need to make it happen.
Commentary by Bradley Tusk, venture capitalist, political strategist and founder and CEO of Tusk Holdings. Tusk is an investor in Uber, FanDuel, Circle, Ripple and others. He served as Mike Bloomberg's campaign manager, guiding Mayor Bloomberg to a third term. In 2016 he advised Bloomberg on a potential presidential run. Bradley has also served as communications director for U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyTusk.
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