In the latest season of “House of Cards,” first lady Claire Underwood champions new gun laws with the help of a group called Families for Gun Reform.
The group is fictitious — as is Underwood’s political brinkmanship to outwit the NRA. But go to families forgunreform.com, and you’ll be redirected to the site of the very real organization Everytown for Gun Safety, launched by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Everytown didn’t just buy up the Families for Gun Reform URL, the group collaborated with “House of Cards” writers “to make sure they got it right,” according to the organization’s president, John Feinblatt. In fact, Feinblatt consulted on the script regarding issues of gun legislation and violence.
Everytown, as well as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and other groups, are increasingly working with entertainment figures to keep their legislative goals in the public eye.
And where past efforts to enlist entertainers or the creators of shows were met with some reticence — given the polarizing nature of the issue and the almost certain pushback from gun rights advocates — now there is a greater willingness to back gun-reform issues, like the need for universal background checks for gun buyers.
“The Good Wife” featured an episode addressing the liability of a gun-store owner after a girl’s death. The Brady Campaign consulted on the episode, and has been working to get more stories that address gun violence integrated into scripts, says president Dan Gross.
“The gun lobby and its lapdogs in Congress and the state legislatures want you to believe that you are risking your career by coming out in support of what the overwhelming majority of Americans want,” Gross says.
Despite proposed legislation mandating universal background checks having stalled in Congress, a growing number of high-profile figures is opting to speak out; for example, a series of PSAs, paid for by Everytown and directed by Spike Lee, featured National Basketball Assn. stars calling for an end to gun violence.
Gross gave a TED Talk in February, in which he told the audience he would start “where most conversations in our country seem to start, with Kim Kardashian.” The line got a big laugh, but there was a topical payoff: He pointed to Kardashian’s appeal to her 35 million Twitter followers for more sensible gun laws. (Her tweet came with no solicitation from the Brady Campaign, he says.)
|“I think the culture is changing. People are thinking, ‘It is time to step up.’”|
“One year ago, it would have been different,” Gross notes, and credits new media with changing the equation. “When you have three or four big networks controlling so many eyeballs, there is this inclination toward thinking conservatively in terms of being out front on issues,” he says. “The internet has democratized information, and social media has democratized activism.”
Actress Julianne Moore had often retweeted calls for improved gun measures, but last year, frustrated that after “every major tragedy, I kept thinking there would be change, and there wasn’t,” she approached Everytown about taking an active role. The result was the formation of the Creative Council, which now numbers more than 100 entertainment figures committed to the struggle to end gun violence. “I think the culture is changing,” Moore says. “People are thinking, ‘It is time to step up.’ ”
As Moore drew on her friends and contacts to join the council, she says, “occasionally there was some trepidation” about getting involved, but “generally they got over it very quickly.”
The response to their efforts to galvanize Americans on the cause of gun-violence prevention is not always friendly. “It has been such a hot-button issue that when people in the entertainment community speak out, there is sometimes huge blowback,” Moore says. “It is scary.” For example, when she tweeted support of a series of anti-gun-violence measures announced in January by President Obama, she received some irate — and vulgar — responses.
Feinblatt traces showbiz’s increased involvement to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children. Subsequently, 60 celebrities appeared in a PSA with a simple word: “Enough.” The movement, he says, has strength because “people aren’t standing alone. They are standing as a group.”
Gun-rights advocates are countering the message.
After Newtown, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre gave a press conference in which he cited violence in the media, including video games and Hollywood movies, as contributors to a violent society. “And they all have the nerve to call it entertainment,” he said. Amy Hunter, media liaison for the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, echoes the charge: “It is always one side of the issue that gets pushed,” she says. “It is sort of what we expect coming out of Hollywood.”
Some of the most outspoken gun-control advocates in Hollywood acknowledge that the industry needs to put its own house in order. When Harvey Weinstein appeared on Piers Morgan’s CNN show in 2014, he said: “You have to look in the mirror, too. I have to choose films that aren’t violent or aren’t as violent as they used to be.”
A focus on media violence in the wake of Newtown led to Vice President Joseph Biden meeting with representatives from the entertainment and video-game industries. But a 2011 Supreme Court decision that struck down a California law to limit the sale of video games puts in doubt the ability of any future legislation to survive a constitutional challenge.
Even attempts to try to find a definitive answer as to whether there is a link between media violence and actual
violence, such as proposed legislation
to spend $10 million on a National Academy of Sciences study, have stalled. Over the decades, there has been a minefield of research with conflicting conclusions.
Feinblatt calls the media argument advanced by the NRA and other gun rights groups a red herring.
“The whole world watches our movies. They watch our television shows. They play video games,” he says. “Yet the U.S. suffers gun violence that is 20 times the rate of other developed countries. [Hollywood] is not the problem.”
Everytown and the Brady Campaign are trying to keep the focus on background checks for all gun purchases, a concept backed by 90% or more of Americans, according to recent polling.
While Congress hasn’t moved on the issue of mandating universal background checks, groups opposing gun violence see greater possibilities for success at the state level: In November, background-check initiatives are on the ballots in Maine and Nevada.
Moore compares the strategy to the fight for marriage equality, where state-by-state battles led to the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.
“Nothing happens federally until things happen in the states,” she points out.
Still, Moore believes Americans should be united in the push for universal background checks and other safety measures. “This is not an issue we are divisive about,” she says. “This is about safety. This is not a Second Amendment issue.”
She compares the situation to the drive to improve automobile safety in the 1970s, which succeeded thanks to a mix of public awareness and legislation. “What happens is things reach a tipping point. It is a public safety issue now, so it is time to do something about it.”
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