Igor Volsky, the executive director and founder of Guns Down America, an organization that works to build a future with fewer guns, spoke at Boston College on Wednesday at the invitation of the College Democrats of BC (CDBC).
Volsky was born in the Soviet Union, but he ended up fleeing with his family due to anti-semitism. In the United States, he worked for the Center for American Progress, helping to research and implement progressive change.
In his time at the Center for American Progress, Volsky avoided gun control topics, focusing on other issues, in part because, “before the Newtown shooting in 2012, politicians never really talked about guns.”
Volsky became involved in the gun issue after the shooting in San Bernardino, California, in 2015. He explained that he was struck by the fact that “the lawmakers who are most vocal about extending their sympathies to first responders and survivors were the same ones who voted against background checks after the Newtown shooting.”
The gap between what Volsky described as “what politicians say and what politicians do” motivated him to tweet quotes of the politicians who sent thoughts and prayers with the amount of money each person took from the National Rifle Association. These tweets would garner national attention.
Through these tweets, Volsky began to think more about guns and attend meetings with different national gun control organizations. During these meetings, he realized that most existing organizations “were all focused on incremental change, and there wasn’t really an organized voice that was trying to define what [gun control advocates] are all fighting for.”
In response to this lack of a long term vision, Volsky founded Guns Down America, with the vision of “building a future with fewer guns.”
“If you look at all of the research, where there are more guns, there are more gun deaths,” Volsky explained. “Gun deaths of every kind, from homicides to suicides to accidental shootings to mass shootings to police shootings.”
The organization decided to focus on two paths toward reaching this goal. The first was to create advocacy campaigns that included corporations. Guns Down America wanted to involve and enlist businesses into the fight to build a future with fewer guns.
Secondly, the organization sought to change the rhetoric around how Americans talk about gun control. The goal was to not only expand how people talked about guns, but also to move forward the policies that people were talking about and calling for.
“It’s now 40,000 people who die, if you combine homicides and suicides together, every single year because of the products that the firearm industry produces,” Volsky said.
Gun deaths have continued to increase because the gun manufacturers have continued to produce more lethal, effective weapons. Facing a saturated gun market, businesses “looked at the gun designs that they sold to the military,” changed a few things, and then introduced them to the civilian market, according to Volsky.
“John Dingle put a special provision into federal law that specifically exempt gun manufacturers from any kind of safety standards or consumer standards,” Volsky said. “The federal ceiling is a fully automatic machine gun.”
While legislative change takes a long time, part of Guns Down America’s mission is to figure out other ways to create change and keep “the ball rolling.” Part of their solution is to get corporations to understand “that helping us build safer communities [is] part of their mandate.”
In response to the Walmart shooting in El Paso, Guns Down America organized, with the aid of several other gun control groups, a campaign to enact several changes in Walmart policy.
Guns Down America called for Walmart “to end all gun and ammunition sales, to end political donations to lawmakers who take money from the NRA, to incorporate the gun issue into their lobbying of Congress, and to begin to invest in the communities they serve.”
Walmart made changes within a month to stop selling ammunition used in assault-style weapons, end handgun sales, and begin to lobby Congress on the gun issue. With these changes, other stories followed suit, sparking momentum.
Volsky and his organization plan on capitalizing on the momentum and continuing the campaign by grading the top 30 businesses in America on how they stand on the gun issue. Consumers can then determine if the businesses they shop at support their values, incentivizing corporations to improve their score.
Audience member Sophie Carter, MCAS ‘22, commented on the cultural impact of the gun lobby and asked Volsky for suggestions about how to “talk to opponents of gun control on a personal level.”
“There’s gonna be a whole host of people you aren’t going to convince, but I frankly think it’s up to the responsibility of America's gun owners to stand up and redefine what gun ownership looks like in America in 2019," said Volsky.