Former executive director of MAIG opens up about challenges for gun-control movement

Mark Glaze, right, what appears to be a moose head, left.  (Photo credit: Facebook).

Mark Glaze, right, what appears to be a moose head, left. (Photo credit: Facebook).

Mark Glaze no longer works for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the pro-gun control organization co-founded by former New York City mayor and billionaire business magnate Michael Bloomberg. After serving as its executive director for three and a half years, he’s decided to step down to pursue greener pastures elsewhere.

During Glaze’s tenure, through heated controversy and sharp criticism, MAIG accomplished quite a bit. While it failed to pass significant reform at the federal level, MAIG has realized several victories at the state level in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

MAIG was instrumental in getting sweeping gun-control legislation passed in New York, Connecticut, California, Colorado and New Jersey, among others over the past year. It also helped Terry McAuliffe, a staunch gun-control supporter, win the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial race.

With its deep pockets, its vows to take on the National Rifle Association, and its unflinching resolve to pass tougher gun laws, it’s growing evermore apparent that MAIG is not going away anytime soon. All the more reason to wonder why MAIG would let its young standout and venerable leader walk out the door.

Q&A

S.H. Blannelberry: I think the most obvious place to start is why did you step down as the executive director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns?

It would appear from an outsiders perspective that MAIG is better situated to effect change on the gun control front than it’s ever been before, especially following Bloomberg’s $50 million pledge to the organization and the merger with the grassroots savvy Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America which formed the formidable and newly branded Everytown for Gun Safety.

So, the real question is why leave now when MAIG has some real momentum?

Glaze: I had accomplished the most important thing I set out to do, which is build an organization, and help rebuild a movement, that has the juice to change the way the country thinks about and regulates guns. When I started, we had eight full-time employes and about 450 mayors. When I left, we had about 80 employees, 1,000 current and former mayors, 1.9 million supporters, Moms chapters in every state, and a string of important state and local victories. It seemed like the highest possible note for me to leave on.

And the truth is that nobody is irreplaceable, and Everytown has the kind of talent we could only have dreamed of attracting a few years ago. That’s the sign and signifier, I think, of a revived movement: smart and talented young people want to work on the issue, rather than avoiding it, which is where we once were. I don’t think my departure will leave a ripple, much less a wake.

And finally, I was just tired. When a mass shooting happens, that’s 20 hour days for months. Doing that from Washington, where I’m based, when the bulk of the staff is located in NYC was never easy, and it got harder as we got bigger. Maybe it’s unmanly to admit this, but the subject matter is tough emotionally, even when you’ve been doing it for a long time. I didn’t know if I had another mass shooting left in me, at least right now. And I knew my family, including a son who’s seven years old, deserved more of me than they’ve been getting. I decided to give it to them while they still remembered what I looked like.

S.H. Blannelberry: In a recent Wall Street Journal interview, you talked about one of the barriers to winning hearts and minds for gun control is trust. Put quite simply, people don’t trust the government. Given this fact, you noted how Obama’s bungled rollout of his health care law, Edward Snowden’s whistling blowing on government surveillance and a dysfunctional Congress only makes matters worse.

While it’s undoubtedly true that folks are not inclined to trust the government or even trust that it can function effectively, there’s also the issue of trusting the vanguards of the gun-control movement.

How can pro-2A advocates or the public for that matter trust leaders of the gun control movement and their promises to protect one’s right to keep and bear arms and pass “common sense” solutions that will not lead to violating privacy rights, the establishment of a national registry or confiscation of firearms when many of them have a well-documented history of putting their foot in their mouth?

In some instances they appear to be wholly misinformed while in other instances they seem to really favor draconian gun laws:

“If I could have gotten 51 votes in the Senate of the United States for an out-right ban, picking up every one of them… ‘Mr. and Mrs. America, turn ‘em all in,’ I would have done it. I could not do that. The votes weren’t here.” — Sen. Dianne Feinstein on CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes,” February 5, 1995.

“What we need to do is change the way in which people think about guns, especially young people, and make it something that’s not cool, that it’s not acceptable, it’s not hip to carry a gun anymore, in the way in which we’ve changed our attitudes about cigarettes,” — Attorney General Eric Holder, discussing a public campaign to “really brainwash people into thinking about guns in a vastly different way,” circa 1995.

“Now, over the next couple of months, we’ve got a couple of issues: gun control. (Applause.) I just came from Denver, where the issue of gun violence is something that has haunted families for way too long, and it is possible for us to create common-sense gun safety measures that respect the traditions of gun ownership in this country and hunters and sportsmen, but also make sure that we don’t have another 20 children in a classroom gunned down by a semiautomatic weapon — by a fully automatic weapon in that case, sadly.” — President Barack Obama, mistakenly states that Adam Lanza used a fully automatic weapon during the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, April 3, 2013.

“No, but pistols are different. You have to pull the trigger each time. An assault weapon you basically hold, it goes…” — Michael Bloomberg, incorrectly explaining the difference between a pistol and a so-called “assault weapon.”

“And I don’t think any parent, any person should have to fear about their child going to school or going to college because someone, for whatever reasons — psychological, emotional, political, ideological, whatever it means — could possibly enter that school property with an automatic weapon and murder innocent children, students, teachers,” — Hillary Clinton, earlier this month during a CNN Town Hall meeting.

Glaze: If this is a problem, it runs both ways. Senate chiefs of staff who are strongly pro gun told me personally — and told the NRA — that the gun lobby lied to their faces about what Manchin Toomey would have meant. The idea that it would create “a national gun registry” comes to mind. Every time Wayne LaPierre opens his mouth about our dreams of gun confiscation — something nobody at Everytown has ever wasted a single minute wanting — he makes it a little harder to meet in the middle and do real business.

Look, it’s a big country. People are free to believe anything, and they do. Do some people believe we’d be better off with an outright ban on firearms? Sure. Everytown has never and will never be among them. My dad was a gun dealer; that’s never been part of my DNA. Some people believe there should be no rules at all about who can carry what kind of gun in any kind of setting. I doubt even Wayne would cop to that.

We have to look past the extremes and meet in the broad and remarkably durable middle, which is where most gun owners are — background checks, local control over concealed carry permitting with some real public safety requirements and real limits on where loaded guns can be carried, better mental health care and other things most of us agree on, but the gun lobby nevertheless opposes.

S.H. Blannelberry: One of the other obstacles to gun control reform that you’ve talked about in the past is that the policy solutions proposed by gun-control groups would do little, if anything, to prevent mass shootings even though it’s these high-profile events that capture the nation’s attention.

From your vantage point, how do gun-control activists overcome this obstacle? Is there even a legislative solution to stopping mass shooters?

Glaze: The big point we consistently make is that mass shootings, which horrific, are outliers in the United States. Most of the 32 Americans who are murdered with guns every day, and the 54 or so more who are killed through suicides and accidents, don’t die in mass shootings, or in situations where serious mental illness is a clear factor. They are usually killed with handguns. That’s why our overwhelming focus has been on background checks, and now on child safety programs like safe storage, and keeping guns away from domestic violence perpetrators, etc.

Each mass shooting is its own tragedy and some of the proposals out there can help. Almost always, these shootings involve someone who is seriously mentally ill and should never have had a gun in the first place. Very often they involve an individual armed to the teeth with high-capacity magazines, which we favor limiting (more on this below) so authorities or bystanders can disarm the shooter (as was the case at Tucson). And Everytown has pointed to legislation that would allow the families of people who appear to be a danger to themselves or others to be evaluated by mental health authorities to determine whether they should have a gun for some period.

But the case we make after mass shootings is straightforward, and we make no apology for it: there are times when no one policy would have stopped that shooting. But we do the best we can to close the loopholes that allow dangerous people to get their hands on guns, and expand the opportunities for authorities to identify people with serious mental health issues, and limit the lethality of the tools available, while ensuring that law-abiding people have access to firearms.

S.H. Blannelberry: Over the past year or so, there’s been a clear pivot by some gun control organizations to divert attention away from legislation banning so-called “assault weapons” and “high-capacity” magazines and focus instead on measures designed to expand background checks to cover private sales, crackdown on domestic abusers who have access to or possess firearms and require the use of trigger locks and other gun safety equipment.

What accounts for this change in strategy? Are bans a non-starter? Do you believe banning “assault weapons” and “high-capacity” magazines are an effective way to reduce gun violence?

Glaze: I would not say there has been a change in long-term strategy. We are building a movement, and that means doing what is doable, where it is doable. And, having passed some bills that will save lives, legislators will get reelected, and will go forward looking at this issue with fresh eyes.

Mark Glaze, selfie after beach run.  (Photo credit: Facebook).

Mark Glaze, selfie after beach run. (Photo credit: Facebook).

Speaking only for myself, I have always been more enthusiastic about limiting magazine capacity than about an outright ban on assault weapons. I think the politics of an assault weapon ban at the federal level are very difficult; I think Americans don’t like bans; I think it’s tough to write a bill that would work; I think that, thanks to industry practice, there’s so much stock on the street that it would take a long time for even a tight law to make a practical difference.

The situation with high-cap mags is somewhat different. We’re talking about a limit, not a ban, and the limit can be somewhat flexible depending on local circumstances. Police, sportsmen and others generally agree that some limit is warranted. And it is, after all, unlimited magazine capacity that makes mass shootings mass, not just the ability to fire as quickly as you can pull the trigger. There’s a lot of mags on the street, too, but I think good reason to believe that with a reasonable limit of the kind Colorado put in place, people can have all the firepower they need, but the police won’t be outgunned, real people in shootouts have a fighting chance of taking out the assailant and over time, the street supply will eventually run dry.

What matters is we all have to be prepared to give a little. In an ideal world, would Second Amendment defenders need to give up their right to unlimited magazine capacity, or to buy a Glock from a stranger without a background check? No, but it’s not an ideal world. It’s one in which it’s impossible to tell a good guy with a gun from a bad guy with a gun. And one where kids get slaughtered every day. We can all give a little, and meet in the middle, to be the kind of country we want our kids to grow up in. And I really believe we’re getting there.

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Thanks to Mr. Glaze for taking the time to answer some questions.