Mobilization spurs change, anti-gun leader tells students

By Nathan Oelker

Elliot Fineman’s life changed forever on Dec. 31, 2006.

That morning, a Chicago policewoman told Fineman that his son had been murdered, shot dead in a San Diego restaurant while dining with his wife.

Overcome with emotion at this senseless act, Fineman was appalled by the fact that the gunman had a history of mental illness and had purchased his gun legally. Through a loophole in our country’s gun laws, because this person had twice committed himself voluntarily, his gun rights were not infringed.

Following this tragedy, Fineman thought it would be trivial to spend his time “helping corporations make more money,” and gave up his strategic communications firm to found the National Gun Victims Action Council in 2010.

Fineman’s organization and mission were the subject of a talk given to a UIC media class Feb. 19.

“Our gun laws are utterly insane,” said Fineman, explaining loopholes such as that individuals on the No Fly List can legally buy guns, gun show exhibitors are not required to run background checks and background checks are not required for online purchases.

Fineman discussed how gun dealers who knowingly sell guns to customers who fail background checks cannot be prosecuted. In all, 40 percent of private sales don’t require this research, he said.

“We give immunity to virtually everyone in the gun industry,” Fineman said.

A person cannot defend himself with a gun because the element of surprise always trumps defense, he said.

“If someone sneaks up behind you to rob you and puts a gun to your head, will you move to retrieve your gun? Carrying a gun offers no chance of protection unless you do it first,” Fineman said.

The NRA’s influence is primarily economic, Fineman said, because its leadership pushes for protective legislation to promote sales.

After explaining the problems, Fineman turned to solutions, presenting his strategy of “Tell and Compel,” with which governments can be influenced to change legislation through economic means. For example, to influence gun laws in the state of Florida, first “tell” the legislators that a U.S. survey shows that 100 million people support changes to gun laws. Then “compel,” by threatening the absence of economic involvement for 100 million people.

As Fineman put it concisely, “For 100 million people, Florida doesn’t exist,” and that boycotting would damage tourism and economic growth.

In Fineman’s view, action through economic means can more easily effect change. The problem, he explained, is mobilizing millions to action.

Fineman said that can be accomplished by showing how gun violence can affect them.

He recalled how reports connecting smoking to lung cancer affected only smokers, but reports about the dangers of secondhand smoke affected everyone. This realization led to mobilization that created current smoking laws.

Fineman hopes that similar realizations, resulting from the deadly shootings in the U.S., can cause a similar effect for gun legislation.

• Nathan Oelker is a junior in English. 

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