Speaking frankly about guns & reddit

My parents left Brooklyn in the eighties to raise me in Columbia, MD—a charming Baltimore suburb. Two days ago, tragedy struck a mall there. In the town I grew up in, at a place I wandered regularly as a kid, someone shot two people then turned the gun on himself.

Seeing footage of people hurt and afraid at our mall was surreal and unsettling. Memories of this place—a childhood friend meeting his wife, camping out at Electronics Boutique, enjoying lazy afternoons with friends—were tarnished with images of innocent people fleeing for safety.

What happened in Columbia was shocking, saddening, and occurs all-too-frequently. Even more disturbing is the lack of coverage of prevalent gun violence in urban communities: there were 12 separate shootings just twenty minutes away in Baltimore last week alone. That these tragedies don’t get nearly the same attention is baffling.

While I do not own guns or particularly like them, I have shot them (even earning a rifle shooting merit badge in Boy Scouts). I also occasionally visit gun ranges with friends. That said, I firmly believe our right to bear arms is inseparable from responsible use and smart regulation. The shooting in Columbia is another sad example that we’re not there yet in terms of stemming senseless gun violence.

To get there, we need honest debate, civil discussion, and bi-partisan legislation. I hope healing and tangible action will come from the pain inflicted on my hometown, but what happened to me a day before was a step backward.

On Friday, while on my book tour for internet entrepreneurship, I sat down with FastCompany’s Adam Popescu, who requested an interview to “talk about Reddit's commerce market.” Since the only reddit marketplace is the reddit gifts marketplace, I interpreted Mr. Popescu's invitation as an opportunity to discuss that platform. Reinforcing my assumption was Mr. Popescu’s desire to connect with Dan McComas, the reddit marketplace’s founder. It turns out Mr. Popescu wanted to talk about guns.

Based on a video Mr. Popescu posted about our t-shirt cannon at a talk I gave prior to the interview, it's obvious to me he had an agenda. Mr. Popescu later admitted to "being vague" in order to get the interview, but I’m a guy who’s definitively refuted bogus allegations with loads of sunlight and spoken candidly about heated topics like “donglegate” and the tech community’s role in them. I’m OK talking about controversial issues, let’s just do it honestly.

Right now, people are using social media platforms to legally arrange gun sales to other people. These social platforms are not commerce sites—there is no actual purchasing happening on the platform. Last fall, the headlines were all about instagram being used for this. Now, it’s reddit.

During this interview, Mr. Popescu pointed to “more than 400 redditors” involved in gun sales.” Out of 100,744,653 monthly users, this is .0004% of the userbase. He also implied that Condé Nast allowed the reddit logo to be sold, which is false. The logo was not sold: people were given permission to use it (in a transaction the aforementioned Mother Jones article already addressed was a “not-for-profit-buy”). I pressed him for facts and he backtracked, saying he’d follow up later.

This simplification continued into a plea that I say something, mobilizing the masses like he claims I do for internet freedom issues. Sadly, I’m not an expert on guns or gun laws. I’m an expert on tech, which is why I speak as much and as often as I have on tech policy issues like SOPA, PIPA, CISPA, TPP, and net neutrality.

In my view, new technology platforms aren’t the problem -- it’s the law. If we turned the internet off tomorrow, these exchanges would still happen on corkboard bulletin boards. Legislation is the way to solve this. The law currently leaves private, in-state gun sales virtually unregulated. We had a chance to change that last April, but Senate Republicans blocked it.

I asked him to work toward convincing people to act by engaging their representatives to pass the stricter gun laws a majority of citizens demand instead of going after hyperbolic headlines. Let's drive honest discussion instead of pageviews. He rebuffed me, saying regular people can’t make a difference -- that it’s up to people with “followings” like me to rally everyone. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This was remarkably naive and simplistic.  

He went on to insist that regular people don’t have much of a voice or the time or inclination and if it isn’t easy they can’t do it to actually make a difference. It was so condescending. As I’ve always said, it was precisely these regular people who defeated SOPA and PIPA. I was one of millions of private citizens who accomplished this. It’s how movements happen online -- from the bottom up. We didn’t defeat SOPA and PIPA because I led the way, it’s because I followed millions of people.

I understand many people still associate me with running reddit, despite not being involved with daily operations since leaving the company in 2010 (I do sit on the board). I’m happy to share my personal views, but that’s what they are: my personal views. After addressing how disappointed I was that he misled me into this interview, he implied he got what he needed. I have no idea what his FastCompany piece will entail, but I wanted to take the time to put forth my own views in my own words.

•••

Finally, Mr. Popescu, I do own pink socks (and love them) but the ones I was wearing that day were actually orange. During our interview, you called my childhood friend and crew manager Asa Solomon a “little guy,” which was rather unprofessional (sure, he’s a little shorter than average, but why the petty putdown?). And lastly, there’s no reason to insult our bus driver, Bruce, for owning a bag that didn’t meet your high-fashion expectations.

30 responses
I received this "State of the Union" report from Mayors Against Illegal Guns just this morning-- http://www.demandaction.org/stateoftheunion It makes sense for Mayors and other local politicians to help engage and lead the charge of many voices on such issues. This is how "regular people" can unite behind a "following" to affect change. Citizen demand does oftentimes need focused and curated conduits to have real hope of changing policy. That said, "untargeted" thought-leaders (like tech experts) have little business in organizing any specific action at changing policy outside of their fields. There's surely value in a public show of support behind established action plans (such as when people rocked #DemandAction banners on their Twitter profiles: http://twibbon.com/support/demand-a-plan-2/twitter), but that's a cosmetic endorsement and amounts to the same idea: many voices, one message. I don't think any informed person would consider Reddit's /r/guns marketplace to be a material impediment to common-sense gun control. That said, it'll be interesting to see the link-bait headline when it drops on FastCompany.
If you are interested in doing something positive to stem this terrible and unneccessary gun violence....there is a way without offending the " good guys " that are born/raised with hunting-guns etc as a way of life. You are in a good position to start a legitamate and positive movement that would generate a lot of support and positive PR almost overnight. Get back to me. thanks.  scott
yep, that crappy to do. similar to what Rosanne did to Tom Sellick http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27fJ1qKobiQ and the real problem with these guys or gals is that they don't study the half baked legislation they are saying you need to get behind or even better be honest with you about what they are gonna ask you so you can study up and actually give an informed opinion. the truth is, most gun control legislation is not what the press or politicians claim them to be and don't have any impact on shootings i.e. the assault weapons ban did nothing to stop Columbine shooting whereas armed teachers or armed resource officers in school would have even if only armed with mace or a tazer
> it was precisely these regular people who defeated SOPA and PIPA Oh, you mean it wasn't google and wikipedia and the dozens of other websites with millions of users going black? I'm pretty dang sure that those sites had a big influence.
> convincing people to act by engaging their representatives to pass the stricter gun laws a majority of citizens demand instead of going after hyperbolic headlines In a time where stricter gun control was recently at 90% approval yet nothing happened, I find this statement to be naive at best. There's more to it than "people just don't want it hard enough".
@ Brother Wayne That 90% statistic was a phone survey from the mid 90's of a couple hundred people, at a time when background checks weren't required on any gun purchase so many had no idea what a background check really would mean. Now that we have had background checks for a little over a decade, anti-gun coalitions like MAIG dredge up old studies like that, that support their agenda rather than use meaningful studies and numbers.
I commend you on admitting this isn't your area of expertise- few have the will for introspection. I'm as liberal as they come (and as pro-gun), but I have to admit, the Manchin-Toomey amendment was scuttled by last minute provisions which would have been unenforceable without a de-facto registry. Meanwhile, gun owners have been begging for access to the NICS system for quite some time so they can run their own checks when making private sales. In addition, the NICS system currently only receives 5% of its alotted funding. If pro-regulation politicians won't vote to fund the laws we have, but instead push for new ones, I'm inclined to think they care less about reducing gun violence, and more about padding their legislative resumes. That said, trying to reduce gun violence with gun control is about as effective as trying to lose weight with a big mac and a diet coke. Take a look at England, often touted as a model for successful gun control. Their gun ban did little more than cause a temporary spike (89%) in shootings before returning to the same level it was pre-ban. Australia, also held up as an example saw gun violence drop in the wake of its ban- by essentially the same amount it dropped globally, including the US, which had an increase in gun ownership over the same period. It should be obvious to anyone who cares to think about it that the mere presence of guns is not the driving factor in societal violence. You have friends who own guns. I'm guessing few, if any, have killed anyone with them. It's become patently obvious that the "drug war" this country has engaged in for the past decades has been a dismal failure, and is a major contributor to violence, including gun violence. Pair that with a growing economic disparity and underclass and we have the over 9,000 gun homicides we experience annually in this country. A quick look at the statistics shows that the vast majority of these aren't school shootings or mall shootings which receive extensive media coverage, but rather occur in our inner cities and are virtually ignored. These are the problems we need to address if we want to be serious about reducing violence of all sorts (remember, only ~65% of murders involve guns). We can start by ending the pointless drug war and redirecting those wasted billions to things like education. This won't be easy, given how much political capital (and campaign funding) DC's denizens have built up on that failed enterprise, but anything else would be little more than a legislative Potemkin Village.
I hope you enjoy all the rural hard core conservative gun owners spamming this post with NRA talking points, Alexis. You have a lot of questions to answer to, and it's a shame that you took this as an opportunity to defend gun trafficking and the reddit assault rifle rather than to do something about it to "make the world suck less." Why do you think you think only the government should "make the world suck less?" Isn't that our job? Amazon, 4chan, and craigslist all make the world suck less by banning gun trafficking on their sites. Do you think they should have waited for the government to tell them what to do? In addition, you don't see people selling a "twitter assault rifle" out of the back of a car without a background check, do you? Thousands upon thousands of assault rifles have been placed on reddit for sale - in the last 6 months alone. Go to /r/gunsarecool for more.
@Luster - I hate to be the one to tell you but the subreddit you mention is kind of the laughing stock of the gun control movement. All the moderators have been banned from most other subreddits for spreading lies. It's moderator banned from reddit itself for giving away personal information about gun owners. Now, this may have changed this past year since I thought that /r/gunsarecool was pulled off of reddit since it was founded by the known pedophile ViolentAcrez. I just didn't think they really mattered to anyone anymore. Better places to discuss gun cviolence on reddit without getting trolled would be /r/progun or /r/gunpolitics
Robert, I don't know if you spent any time looking at that subreddit but you're wildly misinformed. I first found out about them through a Huffington Post article, but they've been covered by them, by Mother Jones, by the Daily Show and dozens of other media outlets, not to mention their own site at ShootingTracker.com Using humor while persuing political goals doesn't make you a laughing stock, although you may be confused by laughs being presentin both.
You can all cry all you want....or you can initiate a long term plan that will address the situation and obtain results in the long term...think about it.
@Jake Snow - I learned about them through /r/politics and /r/progressive I was warned not to go to their subreddit since it would sway my progressive leaning on gun control. Their hyperbole was so bad it made me go out and purchase a gun out of spite.
Robert: That's funny that progressive told you to go away, DailyKos's editors (KagroX aka David Waldman in particular) push the site and they are the largest progressive community online. I don't spend much time on political subreddits being more or an Aww guy, but you might want to ask how much the progressive sub actually represents progressives if that is indeed the case.
@Robert Interesting that you would mention /r/progun. /r/progun was formed mere days after Sandy Hook to astroturf for the proliferation of assault rifles across reddit, using vote manipulation and pooled comment flooding. It's main goal is to keep common sense gun control off the front page, even though 90% of the American public support thinks like background checks - including gun owners. http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/01/26... Similarly, /r/gunpolitics was formed by hardcore rural gun owners from /r/guns as a forum to discuss gun proliferation. You sound like the other hardcore rural gun owners comment flooding here - trying to discredit GrC using lame ad hominem attacks. But /r/gunsarecool is followed by Shannon R Watts (founder of Moms Demand Action), Colin Goddard, a redditor who was shot at VT and is now a prominent advocate and contributor to /r/gunsarecool, and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence among others. Our work - including our revolutionary crowd sourced mass shooting tracker - has been cited to or referred to by the New York Times, CBS News, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and many, many others. http://www.reddit.com/r/GunsAreCool/comments/1w... So we are far from being discredited, and are simply a group of folks who want to stop the black, white, and grey market of firearms and explosives trafficking on reddit. We pretty much agree with the rest of the American public on things. It's the hardcore astroturfers like yourself who are out of step with the main stream, and you know it.
@Tyler you're flat wrong: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/07/us-us... -- Thu Feb 7, 2013 Got any other NRA talking points I can discredit?
@Luster /@BrotherWayne / @JakeSnow @ MODS OF /r/GUNSARECOOL I respect your passion...I do. Unfortunately you have alienated the one group of people you will need to convince in order to pass common sense gun laws in this country...this is why you are a joke. You don't need to convince most democratic politicians, you need to convince the very people you mock. You give them MORE passion and MORE strength. I went to your subreddit...not a single "Call you Senator" post...not a single plan to actually be involved in discussion, just hyperbole. I went to the pro gun subreddits...politicians phone numbers, addresses, petitions. They are winning because you just mock and don't take action. They are more passionate and armed with better resources than you. Be ashamed if you moderator and/or participate in /r/gunsarecool
> In my view, new technology platforms aren’t the problem -- it’s the law. If we turned the internet off tomorrow, these exchanges would still happen on corkboard bulletin boards. Legislation is the way to solve this. The law currently leaves private, in-state gun sales virtually unregulated. We had a chance to change that last April, but Senate Republicans blocked it. Exactly technology is aren't the problem. its law. How dare Citizens or Corporations try to take action in trying to reduce damages done by inefficient laws and step up to try and STOP these exploits from happening. Verizon should have never turned in the pedophile storing child porn on the Cloud. He has the right to his privacy. Fuck the NSA. I guess this is why reddit had /r/jailbait up for so long. Its NOT reddits fault, aka technologies, fault for being child porn-ish site. If we turned off the internet tomorrow child porn will still be sent via mail, faxes, face to face transactions, encoding signs, and so forth. So what is the point of trying to fight child porn, it will still happen. But as Alex believes Legislation is the way to solve child porn just like how legislation solved murder. Of course reddit only blocked /r/jailbait so they would be stigmatized as a child porn site. But hey allowing reddit to exploit the gun sales loophole is a ok in Alex's opinion because its not stigmatized pedophilia content. So why should he do anything about it because having people killed in by guns in American. Thou shall not infringe the 2nd Amendment, Am I right?
Alex, How can you stand for these backwards redditor's selling firearms which WILL kill children. YOU will have blood on your hands. Reddit will have blood on their hands. Regards, Michael
ok @fuckyoualex and @townsley, can you name one instant where a gun sold in the so called loophole was used in a crime? you obviously know enough to sling mud at Alex who doesn't own or control Reddit anymore but I bet you can't come up with one real stat that supports the ass u mption that "redditor's selling firearms which WILL kill children. YOU will have blood on your hands. Reddit will have blood on their hands." not that many kids are killed by guns, specially in states that have always supported responsible gun-ownership. Your alleged thousands of guns sold on reddit are nothing statistically in regard to guns sold nationwide every day yet kids still get beat to death instead of shot. you can't regulate human behavior.
who's Alex?
GrC - home of the most racist, bigoted, hate group on reddit now that all the other racist subreddits have been banned. Home of the most manipulated data, blatant falsehoods, lies, and made up definitions that only the most desperate click-whore media outlets are willing to source. Do what any sane person should do, ignore and move on.
Alex, how does it feel to have the same guy who caused you so many problems with creepshots, jailbait and many other disgusting subreddits now striking back at you through /r/gunsarecool? http://gawker.com/5950981/unmasking-reddits-vio... You guys removed violentacrez for his myriad of racist & pedophile subreddits, but you left /r/gunsarecool. Isn't it time to erase that mistake?
@Townsley - I don't care if you are VA or not. I wouldn't be surprised if you are though; it only makes sense for a pedophile & racist to be afraid that someone will come after them with a gun.
I don't know, it seems like at whatever level, Reddit is/was engage in firearms commerce, and the guy wanted to talk about commerce on Reddit. Sounds like fair game to me.
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