It was easy to tell myself I wasn’t doing work that supported the NRA. Until a man walked into a club in Orlando and killed 49 people, injuring over 50 others. Once again, dozens of innocent people were dead. Our nation mourned. Vigils were held. Arguments raged. Who is culpable for letting this happen again?
I was. And I didn’t act alone.
The perpetrator of the deadliest mass shooting in our country’s history could’ve bought any gun, but he didn’t. He bought a Sig Sauer MCX, manufactured right here in New Hampshire. The fifth-largest gun manufacturer in the country, Sig Sauer exists with the support of hundreds of people that work for them, either directly or indirectly — including, until recently, me.
Working on a Sig Sauer website project wasn’t something I did without conflict. I was often unsettled with the language and imagery used to advertise their products. Tasks as simple as copying and pasting language from their current website like “Built from the ground up to be silenced” and “Whatever you’re seeking… acquire your target,” would often make me physically wince. Yet, in spite of a deep sense of shame for contributing even in a small way to this industry, I silenced my deep misgivings in favor of keeping my job and paycheck.
When I learned there had been another mass shooting, the deadliest one yet, I was devastated. I watched a sobbing mother pleading with a nation to do something. The next day, I quit my job. While writing copy for Sig Sauer wasn’t the only reason, it was the last reason and it should have been the first. Profiting from a gun manufacturer, albeit through the third party of my employer, made this my responsibility. When I found out the gun used in the Orlando shooting was a Sig Sauer MCX, a weapon I was sickeningly familiar with, the personal connection and responsibility I felt was overwhelming.
Any conversation about the culpability of a gun manufacturer is sure to be met with an array of analogies warning of the slippery slope: if we hold a gun company accountable, next we might be holding someone just like you accountable for misusing a product you sold them.
But here’s the sickening thing: The shooters aren’t misusing guns — they’re doing exactly what guns are designed to do: kill. As recently pointed out on The Rachel Maddow Show, the Sig Sauer MCX is advertised for its collapsible build, its ease of firing in quick succession and its ability to be silenced.
When a gun like the MCX is used in an Orlando-type massacre, we need to talk about the gun manufacturer’s, marketer’s and seller’s responsibility.
And for those of you who don’t know, let me back up and tell you a little about Sig Sauer. Sig Sauer is a sponsor of the NRA News series “Defending our America” and has sponsored various NRA events. In 2014, the German government halted all exports of Sig Sauer guns, pending investigations into potentially illegal arms sales to conflict zones in Kazakhstan and Columbia (key evidence in one German investigation was later reported missing from the prosecution’s office). In World War II, Sauer (who would later join forces with Swiss weapons manufacturer Sig) produced thousands of handguns for the German military, police and Nazi party.
Even for those among us who support responsible gun ownership, is this a company we should feel comfortable supporting? Why aren’t we at the very least talking about it? The answer is deadly simple: The NRA has spent millions on our Congress to make sure these conversations never happen.
The NRA is a very effective PR shield, allowing gun manufacturers to go largely without public scrutiny and vitriol. As a result, the gun industry has been incredibly effective at making us believe that gun violence is really our fault, with slogans like, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”
This is a common tactic: Abusers commonly blame the abused, and rely on their shame to keep them silent. We are in trauma as a nation, from gun violence. We’re made to believe that it’s all our fault, discouraged from talking about this abuse, even when it’s literally killing us. Congress will not allow the CDC to even study gun violence. How can we address a problem if we are not even allowed to study it?
If we resent the inaction of our politicians to address gun violence, we’re allowed — even encouraged — to speak out against the NRA. This deflection allows people like me and the millions who have supported the gun industry a way to convince ourselves that we are removed enough from responsibility for this epidemic.
I wish it felt like more of an exaggeration than it is to say that I profited from the deaths of thousands of strangers. I wish that I could personally apologize to every friend and family member of every victim of gun violence for the part that I played in enabling this culture. I may not be able to do that, but I can make the decision to never support a gun company again, and to no longer contribute to this abusive cycle of violence — with my actions, or with my silence.
To paraphrase Maya Angelou, the moment you know better, you must do better. The NRA is investing millions trying to keep us from knowing better, or to opt for silence over facing an ugly reality. But to solve it, we must face it. As Rep. John Lewis said recently in reference to gun violence, “How many more mothers, how many more fathers need to shed tears of grief before we do something?”
Our responsibility as citizens doesn’t stop at voting every couple of years and then complaining that our representatives don’t get anything done. To borrow from conservative ideology, we can help solve this particular problem in the free markets — with our dollars and the choices we make about how we spend our time, and who we do business with.
Let’s do better.
This article was originally published on July 3, 2016 in Seacoast Sunday, the combined Sunday edition of The Portsmouth Herald and Foster’s Daily Democrat. You can read an online version of the op-ed on SeacoastOnline.com.
The article was also picked up in the July 8, 2016 edition of the New Hampshire Business Review and can be found online at nhbr.com.
You can read an online version of the article on Medium, supplemented with links and other resources on SIG SAUER that I found helpful when researching this piece.