Fred Guttenberg at a CNN town hall meeting in Sunrise, Florida, on 21 February 2018. Photograph: Reuters
Pressure on politicians will reach a crescendo later this month when the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas lead the March For Our Lives in Washington on 24 March. Hundreds of thousands are expected to attend and more than 500 events will be staged across the US and around the world demanding measures to end gun violence and mass shootings.
The activism from his daughter’s Stoneman Douglas classmates, and from kids all over the country, gives Guttenberg hope. Some of the students at TC Williams high school in Virginia were wearing and hanging out orange ribbons, like the one Guttenberg himself wore, a symbol of gun violence prevention, and Jaime’s favorite color.
Earlier in the day, he had spent an hour with Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican whose support of assault weapons he had excoriated on television. He did not think Rubio’s views were changing, but he respected that Rubio had taken the time to meet with him face-to-face.
Guttenberg carries around a screenshot of the latest ad from National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch, where she warned the NRA’s opponents, some of them by name, “Your time is running out.”
“If this was put out by a terrorist organization, we would be raising the terror threat level in this country. Why are we letting this lobby having anything to do with DC? I don’t understand it,” Guttenberg told Democratic senators at Wednesday’s hearing, his voice breaking with frustration.
Before the hearing, in the hallway outside the conference room, Guttenberg had been even blunter. “All our legislators who stand with the NRA, they’re standing with a terrorist group,” he said.
Loesch has defended the ad as simply a promo for her new NRA TV show. She wrote on Twitter that it was “unproductive” to call millions of NRA members “terrorists” because “their choice of protecting their families is different from yours”.
While he wants to ban assault weapons like the rifle used to kill his daughter, a ban is not actually Guttenberg’s top priority at the moment. “I don’t think it will ever happen in this environment,” he said. “As much as I would like to see that, I’m interested in taking steps to start dealing with the safety issue in a pragmatic way.”
His current priorities are these: raising the age to buy guns – the shooter, who was 19, had been to buy a military-style rifle before he was legally allowed to have a beer; adding a waiting period before gun sales; ensuring a “truly effective” background check system for gun sales, with no loopholes; banning high-capacity ammunition magazines and bump stocks.
He says guns should be treated more like cars, with mandatory licensing, registration and insurance – a policy that even Democrats like Obama had treated as too extreme to pursue.
Guttenberg said that was ridiculous. “Anyone who says there’s no support for gun legislation that’s as minimal as that should be fired. That’s what I think.”
He is not putting much faith in national politicians’ ability to stand up to the NRA. But corporate America has been “heroic”, with some major corporations ending special discounts for NRA members, and others voluntarily announcing they would raise the age for buying certain guns or resolving to stop selling assault-style rifles.
As Guttenberg spoke to Senate Democrats, Florida’s legislature was in the process of passing its first serious gun control legislation in decades. It was “the bare minimum legislation”, he said, raising age limits for buying guns, creating a waiting period, and banning bump stocks, but the fact that any legislation passed in Florida, a pro-gun state, was a blow to the NRA’s “aura of strength” .
The financial industry is next, Guttenberg hopes. He wanted to see all investment funds “divest themselves of these gun manufacturers and of companies that have relationships with the NRA”.
This is his strategy: “Keep the pressure on the money.”