How Might We…

An exercise in provocations on reducing gun violence.

On the wall at IDEO San Francisco.

IDEO, who literally wrote the book on Design Thinking, has a construct that I love. You start brainstorming sessions with “How Might We…” and then you articulate a “provocation” that seems nearly impossible, that removes all the previous constraints on a sub-optimal situation. It’s refreshing.

Recently I’ve been brainstorming ways to decrease the scourge of gun violence.

The basic brief: How might we create behavior-driven mechanisms that would allow responsible gun owners to benefit from their ownership, and form coalitions of people who are focused on reducing violence?

A few provocative assumptions. First, I take responsible gun owners at their word, and assume that they are actually interested in reducing gun fatalities and injuries. No one wants their next door neighbor’s toddler getting their hands on a gun. Many of these ideas would require sponsorship/leadership from these very people. Second, I believe that the 300 million guns in the US are owned by more than the 3 million members of the NRA. Finally, I’m inspired by business people who want to be good contributors to society, including Smith & Wesson, as long as they are able to build shareholder value, deliver a great product, and support employees. I believe arms manufacturers do actually want to reduce lethality for the long-term viability of their businesses.

So these tactics, brainstormed from my years of consumer marketing experience, MBA, and time in coalition building, attempt to use market forces and social mores to drive certain changes in behavior. Perhaps some of them would require the “air cover” of legislation, but others would not.

I didn’t worry too much about the 300 million firearms that are currently in private use for this exercise; I tend to think if we start focusing the conversation on rewarding good behavior and preserving honor, the conversation will shift and we’ll see behavior like Kwame Anthony Appiah describes in The Honor Code).

Consumer Reports for Firearms — Before manufacturers release a new model, it goes through a series of “crash tests.” Can the average owner, with average skills, shoot it accurately? With what training? Benchmarks are set. If the firearm doesn’t pass, it goes back to the manufacturer for redesign. This happens for military equipment first, because manufacturers are focused on interoperability. From the tests, the CDC or BATF gathers and publishes data about average load times, “accuracy rating” and other metrics by model, which then gets published.

The Prescription — Before you buy a gun, you get a note from your doctor and two other adults. You get this notarized and it goes on local file.

Firearm Frequent Flier— A voluntary program by which, if you register as a “responsible gun owner” the government pays you 10% off the cost of your firearm, 15% off firearm 2, 20% off firearm 3. (If you’re willing to give up your fingerprints for Pre-Check, maybe you’re willing to get few dollars off to join the database).

Check Ups — Firearm owners must take a test every 4–5 years to show they still have skills, physical coordination and mental facility. These checkups are differentiated by age range and length of gun ownership.

Firearm Clubs — Voluntary groups are allocated BATF representatives and get goodies for participating in gun safety sessions, competitions for accuracy, training, and participation. Yes, the much-maligned participation trophy.

Worth the Wait — If you are buying a firearm for the first time ever (which we know because of background checks, which are favored by 85% of gun owners) you wait 10 days. Focused on reduction of suicide incidence.

“I’m a Glock Black Belt” — Firearms are categorized by model. Gun owners are certified for different models. Firearms that are more difficult to shoot require higher level of certification. Higher levels of training — and maybe even competition — naturally develop higher status.

Three Strikes — Dealers who are consistent “bad actors” lose their FFL license.

The Write-off — Itemize your firearms and get a write-off every year. Use this data to map where guns are “living” and how that drives morbidity rates/health.

Dealer Deals — Publish criminal rates of the guns purchased at various dealers. Build communication campaigns encouraging responsible gun owners to patronize only the dealers with low-lethality statistics. Create stickers that go on dealers with “responsible” practices.

Jack the Taxes — Taxes on firearms are around 10% (compare to around 17% on most mobile phone businesses). Jack the taxes and use the money to pay for gun lethality research at NIH, or use the funds to pay restitution to victims of gun violence.

There are some creative tactics already in use:

Weapons RFP — Local municipalities use RFP processes to force manufacturers to implement safety technology.

Magazine — Limit magazine size.

Some of these would likely work; others would not. But it’s interesting to imagine a world where some configuration where civil society, the private sector, and government come together to reduce the lethality of a consumer product.

There are products that can be used irresponsibly in almost every industry: autos, building materials, medical devices, pharmaceuticals. In almost every case, there is a graduated level of certification and training that accompanies the product that is co-written between manufacturers and the public, through legislation and the court of public opinion. And it’s the collaboration, between willing, responsible manufacturers, consumer advocates and voters that drives business, makes us all safer, and saves lives.