Why I’m Joining Other CEOs in Urging the Senate to Take On Gun Violence

September 12, 2019, 2:00 PM UTC
Flags fly at half mast over a prayer vigil at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin (UTPB) for the victims of a mass shooting, September 1, 2019 in Odessa, Texas.
ODESSA, TX - SEPTEMBER 1: Flags fly at half mast over a prayer vigil at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin (UTPB) for the victims of a mass shooting, September 1, 2019 in Odessa, Texas. Seven people had been killed, in addition to the gunman and at least 21 others were wounded, including three law enforcement officers after a gunman went on a rampage. The man who has not been identified fled from state troopers who had tried to pull him over. The gunman then hijacked a United States postal van and indiscriminately fired from a rifle at people before the authorities shot and killed him outside a movie theater in Odessa. (Photo by Cengiz Yar/Getty Images)
Cengiz Yar—Getty Images

The anger, the sadness, the frustration—it’s all too familiar. After Gilroy, after Brooklyn, after El Paso, after Dayton, and now after a Labor Day weekend when six people were shot at a high school football game in Alabama on Friday, and seven were killed and more than 20 wounded the next day in Texas.

There were 68 people killed in mass shootings in August alone. The circumstances differ from one to the next, but each one brings tragic outcomes for American families and neighborhoods. Each leaves us wondering what we can do and when (not if) the next one will occur. And each raises the question: When will our leaders finally do what needs to be done to counter a gun violence epidemic that claims an average of 100 lives every day?

It’s not just the mass shootings, either. Away from the headlines, urban shootings, suicides, domestic violence, and accidental gunfire plague communities around the country on a daily basis. Every moment that Congress fails to act increases the chances that more lives will be lost. As an American and a parent, it’s agonizing to see what this is doing to our nation. As a CEO who is used to solving problems and moving agendas forward, I’m incredibly frustrated by concerted efforts to obstruct actions that can make our schools, our public spaces, and our streets safer.

This has to stop.

I want to be very clear: This is not a call to repeal the Second Amendment. When I served my country as an officer of the U.S. Army, I swore an oath to defend the Constitution, and I still believe in that oath. Nor is this an indictment of gun owners, the vast majority of whom are responsible. It is, however, an acknowledgment that we need checks and balances to make our communities safer. It is a declaration that it should never be more difficult to get a driver’s license than it is to get a gun. And it is a call to rally the business community to be on the right side of history and to pressure Congress to pass laws that can save lives.  

It is high time that corporate leaders mobilize to demand that Congress stand with a clear majority of Americans and reduce the risk of more shootings. Today, I am asking my fellow CEOs to add their voice to this debate. Already, companies like Walmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, PayPal, Kroger, Citigroup, Square, and Toms have made significant moves within their businesses in response to this epidemic. As of today, 145 CEOs, including myself, have signed a letter to the Senate urging it to pass mandatory federal background checks for all gun sales and red flag laws that can temporarily remove firearms from people who pose a threat to others or themselves. We know these laws work, and we know that most Americans—and gun owners—support them.  

I understand the hesitation to publicly join this movement. This is not a simple matter. And it’s easy to think that it’s not relevant to our businesses. After Levi Strauss & Co. took a stand against gun violence last year, I was asked repeatedly why we waded into this debate. We sell clothes, after all, not guns.

I believe that we, as CEOs, have an obligation to get involved in issues that impact our employees, our consumers, and our communities, including the 58% of American adults or someone they care for who have experienced gun violence. I also believe that gun violence has a far-reaching impact on business—and not only on those who make and sell guns. Whether we operate in public spaces or provide the systems that make our economy work, the gun violence epidemic presents risks for us all. And when risk threatens your business, you act.

Gun violence demands swift action from all of us, and we must in turn demand swift action from our elected officials. The legislative road map is clear. The House has already passed a universal background checks bill. Red flag laws have been enacted by 17 states and the District of Columbia, and federal legislation to support red flag laws in every state has been introduced in both the House and the Senate. We cannot let lack of political leadership block commonsense reform or allow the memory of these most recent shootings fade, along with the urgency that follows. We need to force the issue, to seek real results, and to hold each of our elected officials accountable for their positions on these bills. 

If anyone needs inspiration about what can be accomplished, I’d suggest looking at what’s happening at the state and local level, where organized, sustained pressure from dogged advocates, courageous survivors, and independent-minded politicians—Republicans and Democrats alike—has spurred the passage of numerous commonsense gun laws just this year.

Gun violence is not inevitable. It is preventable, but only if we as business leaders and as citizens step up and make it clear that the daily loss of life is unacceptable. We cannot wait another day, or until the next mass shooting, to take action.

Chip Bergh is the president and CEO of Levi Strauss & Co. and serves on the company’s board of directors.

If you are a CEO interested in joining the letter to the Senate, click here to add your name.

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