Q&A: Kris Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign, talks gun control, student activists and Trump

Kris Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun control advocacy group, talks about the current gun debate in the country.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Kris Brown has never seen the energy and support behind gun control reach this level.

Students are staging walk outs. Businesses are limiting gun sales. And politicians are voicing support for legislation that, a month ago, seemed unimaginable.

Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said that in the weeks since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the gun control advocacy organization has swelled with support. Following the Feb. 14 shooting, she said, 18 new chapters — in addition to the more than 100 that already existed — have emerged nationwide. The group is helping to organize “March for Our Lives” rallies across the country on March 24 that will call for more gun control laws.

Brown, 49, spoke with The Times about the student uprising, the National Rifle Assn. and gun control legislation that could pass in the weeks ahead. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You’ve been on the front lines of the gun debate that follows mass shootings. At this moment, what most gives you a sense of optimism that significant gun control legislation will be passed by Congress?

The debate that’s going on right now is different from what we’ve seen before, and the momentum is different. After Sandy Hook [in 2012], I think the nation was appalled. Congress attempted to pass legislation that did not go anywhere. … I think that many Americans felt that after the slaughter of innocent children in a school, the idea that Congress didn’t do anything at all about it made them feel very defeated about the prospect for meaningful change in this country.

The high school kids — many of whom were students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who are speaking out and continuing to share their thoughts and voices — they feel very much that this country has let them down. That’s what we’re hearing over and over again. And the demands for change that they’re making aren’t just for small fixes to the system. They want it all. And I think that’s really inspiring people to rethink why the rules are set up this way. Why is it that they’re set up and actually designed to protect gun manufacturers with no real internalization of the cost of human lives?

I think they’ve really sparked something, and we’re seeing that even in the political commentary. We have people like Lindsey Graham, even Ted Cruz on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” talking about measures related to more regulations of guns. That is unique and new.

So you think that the students are the core cause of change?

I really do think they sparked something that is the momentum toward a real change. I think they’re the catalyst for the change. I think when you have people who have no interest except their own self-preservation and safety, who can speak with an authentic and both youthful and adult-like voice, that’s powerful.

Being victim survivors themselves, they have the ability to ask the really tough questions. Why have you, Marco Rubio, taken money from the NRA? Why aren’t you supporting these policies that we as voters want you to support? I think that has sparked a whole conversation in households all across the country. Yes, why is it this way? Let’s change this and fix it.

When you look across at the National Rifle Assn., what do you see?

I see an organization that started many, many years ago with a noble purpose, which is to represent owners of guns and provide information about proper stewardship of guns. To provide opportunities for sharpshooting, going out to ranges and things like that — that’s how the NRA started.

I now see an organization that has strayed dramatically away from actually representing the gun owners that they were formed to represent and really taking the interests of manufacturers to heart.

The best example I have of that is the latest [Quinnipiac] poll around background checks that says 97% — 97%! — of all Americans believe that we must strengthen and protect our background check system. The NRA has fought tooth and nail actually against every proposal that would do that and does even now. So I think it has gone way far astray from the purpose that it was set up for.

Critics of gun control say more laws will not stop the next mass shooting. What do you say to them?

We have over 300 million guns in this country. … It’s not about whether or not we need additional laws. We actually need reasonable laws and protections in place that actually work, and then we need to able to enforce them. So it’s both sides of the equation.

President Trump made some extraordinary comments last week, saying, in part, he would support taking guns away from citizens and worrying about the legality of such a move later. What are your thoughts about that?

My candid thought is that if President Obama had said something like that, he might have been subject to impeachment hearings right away. I think it’s an interesting standard. We at Brady actually have been strong proponents of extreme risk laws, and we support due process being a part of that equation. Of course, if law enforcement comes into anyone’s home and believes they’re truly an immanent risk to themselves or others, they can always have an expedited process in that case to remove guns.

What’s your message to some people in inner cities — who live in mostly black and Latino neighborhoods — who experience gun violence on a daily basis but feel as if their voices are not heard. They feel as if calls for gun control only take place after mass shootings in the suburbs.

I hear that and I actually agree with that. There are over 96 people a day who die from gun violence in this country. Mass shootings constitute 1% to 2% of all gun violence. We want an opportunity here to actually talk as a gun violence organization about all of the things that we think must be done to solve the problem of gun violence and that is in every community.

For many communities, the most dangerous part of the day is not at school. That’s the safest part of the day. The most dangerous part of the day is walking to and from school. So Brady has an entire campaign actually aimed at disrupting the supply of guns into urban communities across the country, and we’re working with the National Urban League to actually implement that campaign.

Finish this sentence: Guns in America …

… have a very important role in American life, and it’s in all Americans’ interest to actually ensure that we live in a society where all of us can live our daily lives without the fear of being shot.

Support our journalism

Please consider subscribing today to support stories like this one. Get full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks. Already a subscriber? Your support makes our work possible. Thank you.


Who they were: The victims of the Parkland school shooting

Nikolas Cruz indicted in Florida high school shooting — 17 counts of murder

Florida state Senate passes a Marjory Stoneman Douglas gun control act — and some call it an insult to its namesake