The surprising decision that may change gun laws forever
In graduate school, the one concept my classmates and I could neither agree upon nor define was “leadership.” I like to say that leadership is a lot like hard core pornography: impossible to define but you know it when you see it. During my studies, I realized pretty quickly what leadership is not. It isn't position or title. It is not words. It is neither action nor inaction. And yet it can be all of these things when the stars collide or the bullets fly and someone decides something – the right thing – needs to be done, then actually does it.
If you had told me last week that Dick’s Sporting Goods of all places would emerge as a courageous leader in the aftermath of the Florida school shooting, I would have rolled my eyes. Dick’s Sporting Goods is part of the problem, y’all! But yesterday, incredibly, they announced they will no longer sell assault style rifles like the ones used in Florida school shooting, nor will they sell high-capacity magazines. In spite of the law, they will raise to 21 the minimum age to buy a firearm. Edward Stack, Dick’s CEO, said, “Thoughts and prayers don’t do anything,” referring to the hollow sentiments of politicians and lawmakers in the wake of school slaughters. While listening to the Florida students advocate for gun control, Stack and his senior team felt compelled to act. “As we sat and talked about it with our management team, it was -- to a person -- that this is what we need to do," he said. "These kids talk about enough is enough. We concluded if these kids are brave enough to organize and do what they're doing, we should be brave enough to take this stand."
And herein lies the secret of leadership: courage is contagious. Students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, who have neither position nor title, who cannot vote, who are still under the control of adults, who have no standing other than as witnesses and inheritors of the planet, launched a brave and passionate movement to try and force change, something our elected officials refuse to do.
Students take the lead, Dick’s follows. Then Walmart, who also raised the minimum gun-buying age to 21 and removed some non-lethal air guns and gun toys from their website. There will be more businesses following suit. One voice leads to many voices which leads to meaningful change. Just look at the #metoo movement: one brave woman spoke out against the harassment that has been an intractable fact of life for women for-EVER. Her bravery inspired thousands more. This tsunami of truth-telling has led to a shake-up and take-down of staggering proportions. It may well have changed the power dynamic between men and women forever (we hope).
Many critics say Dick’s Sporting Goods is deluded and that their decision won’t make the tiniest dent in the sales of assault rifles. But we don’t know that, do we? Courage is contagious. Now that the way is being paved, others will surely follow.
What passes for leadership these days is practically pornographic but with no happy ending in sight. So when real leadership rears its head, in the form of a group of students, or a whispered voice, or a CEO willing to compromise the bottom line in order to do the right thing, it’s so inspiring it renews your faith in the power of the human voice to bring transformation. So whatever small thing you think you want to do to make things better, do it. Tell others. Write about it, sing it out.
You don’t have to have a title to be a leader: you just need you to stand up and speak out. We're listening.