Warriors basketball coach Kerr, gun safety and tipping points

Warriors basketball coach Kerr, gun safety and tipping points
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The Golden State Warriors are in their fifth NBA finals, so a reporter asked Coach Steve Kerr a wide battery of questions, ranging from what he likes to read to his take on the recent news.

One of Kerr’s favorite books is "The Tipping Point," by Malcolm Gladwell. That’s not surprising; Coach Kerr is adept at recognizing tipping points in a basketball game’s momentum.

When he was asked his opinion of recent news, Kerr said, “I think the younger generation is our hope. They’re getting more people to vote. My movement is the gun control and gun safety measures. Things are finally starting to change in that area. Over 90 percent of Americans want universal background checks.”

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Kerr is encouraged by groups like Brady, Sandy Hook Promise, March for Our Lives and the Giffords Law Center. The March for Our Lives group, he said, is “young people fed up with all of these school shootings,” and they are setting up chapters all over the country that are trying to get people to vote.

Kerr is right that this movement has been inspired by the activism of newly mobilized young people. I’ve been involved since 1994, when my 15-year-old son was shot and killed, and I’m more optimistic than ever that we’ll pass some sensible laws, such as requiring background checks on all gun sales.

Recently I happened upon an under-publicized book about this tipping point in the gun safety movement. It tells the odd story of how a bunch of self-described student “misfits” from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School drama club and their friends sparked this youth engagement after the mass shooting at their school in Parkland, Fla.

In Dave Cullen’s book, "Parkland: Birth of a Movement," we observe why these students came to “call BS” about what NRA-funded politicians were saying. One of them, David Hogg, said, “[S]tudents are dying trying to get an education. That’s not OK. That’s not acceptable. And we need to fix that.”

How they changed the movement to make Americans safe from gun violence is quite a story. These self-described “kids” who lost 17 friends, classmates and teachers, brought a unique set of skills to gun violence prevention. Before long, in creative ways, they even sometimes had fun growing the movement.

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To his credit, Cullen shows how hard this was to do while they were coping with grief, with the urgency of planning a huge national rally, with the stresses of a sudden mass media frenzy, and with the temptations of becoming “celebrities” — something these kids were determined to avoid.

At one point, Cullen says he did not assume that these teenagers were incapable of doing great things, and their story proves they could do great things. During the course of their first year, they showed over and over a remarkable ability to merge the school shooting issue with the cause of preventing urban gun violence, to stay focused on crucial gun policies that will save lives, and to mobilize and register young voters. Their goal was to stay nonpartisan and avoid personal attacks. They kept their demands policy-oriented and invited communication even with those who disagreed with them.

The activism of the Parkland students helped build the surge in youth voting in the 2018 midterm election that contributed to the victories of many federal and state candidates who support stronger gun laws.

Those Parkland “kids” may have pushed the entire gun safety movement over a tipping point, and we’re lucky that Dave Cullen was there to give us a play-by-play of how that happened.

Griffin Dix, Ph.D., is president of the Oakland/Alameda County (Calif.) Brady chapter and served on the Brady Board of Trustees from 2006 through 2008. He was research director at MacWEEK. His 15-year-old son was shot and killed in 1994. Since his son was killed, Dix has worked with a coalition that has helped to pass many state laws to prevent gun violence, including laws establishing semiautomatic handgun product safety standards. He is writing a memoir about the loss of his son, his lawsuit against Beretta USA and his work on gun violence prevention. Follow him on Twitter @griffindix.