This week more than 1,000 people have gathered in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco for the annual TedMed conference, which is one of those fast-paced, international meetings bringing together people who want to come together to make deals, make connections, make friendships, make whatever people like to make who get together and then be able to tell everyone who wasn’t there how much they missed by not being there. Think the Aspen Institute conference, think Davos, think TedMed, get it?
TedMed claims that its meetings explore “the technology, creativity and innovation that contributes to a healthier future,” which is an understated way of saying that if you have a new idea that will make a gezillion dollars in today’s health technology market, you’ll meet plenty of deep pockets belonging to people who want to help you get it out there as long as most of the profits end up belonging to them. But that’s the way entrepreneurship works and that’s the reason why the TedMed meeting was video-streamed to more than 140 countries worldwide.
I normally avoid having anything to do with such meetings because I know that the real action takes place not on the speaker’s platform, but in the hallways and the lounges where the conference delegates meet and greet. But I had to watch today’s session because one of the main speakers was Daniel Webster, who runs the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health. And if readers of my column find that this name strikes a familiar chord it should, since the School in which the Center is located is endowed by the NRA’s chief antagonist, the former Mayor of New York.
If you’ve read the Center’s publications, you won’t find anything in Webster’s remarks at TedMed that would surprise. And the prescription for reducing gun violence, which he described artfully and fully to the TedMed audience, can be found in the many published articles of the Center and are summarized in the book, Reducing Gun Violence in America, which the Center released following the massacre at Sandy Hook. In sum, Webster and his colleagues believe that gun homicides can be reduced by roughly half of the 11,000 that occur each year, a goal which could be met if gun ownership standards were more higher and more consistent, gun dealers were better regulated, private gun transfers came under NICS, and safe-gun technologies, particularly ballistic prints of ammunition, were implemented by manufacturers prior to retail sales.
As I was listening to Dan Webster’s remarks, however, it occurred to me that perhaps something needed to be considered beyond the strategy for change that he outlined in cogent and hopeful tones. Because while there’s no question that a majority of Americans, even a majority of gun-owning Americans, support (at least in theory) sensible measures to reduce the carnage from guns, perhaps the audience at the TedMed conference included entrepreneurs and investors who view this issue, like they view all such issues, as a question of market, products, profit and loss. So why not enlist them in figuring out how to translate some of these policy ideas into profitable ventures – the real American approach to solving problems – which will create financial incentives to help reduce harm from guns?
The smart-gun technology stuff has been kicking around for years, but the Number 1 reason why guns go off when they shouldn’t is because the owner forgot to unload it before he put it away. We have sensors that tell us if we forget to turn off the lights on our cars. Would anyone believe that their 2nd Amendment rights were under attack because they were reminded electronically to unload their guns? Don’t get me wrong – the Hopkins gun violence research team understands the policy imperatives that would bring gun violence way down. But asking entrepreneurs to advance the goals of those policies through market-based ideas and products certainly wouldn’t be wrong.