Steve Kerr grew emotional while discussing the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
- Steve Kerr gave an emotional speech after a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, left 21 dead.
- Experts say business leaders have a responsibility to speak out on the gun debate.
- CEOs have a small window of opportunity to enter the debate, and Kerr’s speech offers key takeaways.
“When are we going to do something,” yelled Steve Kerr, the head coach of the Golden State Warriors, as he banged his hands on a table. “I’m tired. I am so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to the devastated families that are out there. I am so tired of the — excuse me. I’m sorry. I am tired of the moments of silence. Enough!”
Kerr broke pregame tradition during a press conference in Dallas in May, saying, “I’m not going to talk about basketball.” He added, “Any basketball questions don’t matter.” Instead, a visibly distraught Kerr used the platform to express his outrage in response to a mass shooting that occured at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, earlier that day killing 19 children and two adults.
Experts said it was the right move. “CEOs have a responsibility to speak out on the gun debate in a way that talks about our common humanity and the ways that we are responsible for one another,” said Gerard Lawson, a professor and trauma counselor at Virginia Tech. “Coach Kerr is a good example of that.”
The past two years have seen leaders pushed to speak out on controversial issues, including the death of George Floyd, LGBTQ rights, and abortion. With gun-control questions at the center of public consciousness, CEOs seeking to speak out in support of stronger gun laws have a small window of opportunity to enter the debate.
Last month, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon called on politicians to act on gun control. “All of us at Goldman Sachs express our deepest sorrow over the recent tragic and senseless acts of violence in America, which have resulted in the deaths of friends, neighbors, co-workers, children, and other loved ones. These were innocent people who were merely living their lives — going to lunch, the grocery store, and to school,” Solomon said in a statement.
He added, “Today in New York City, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with the Mayor and other private sector leaders to emphasize that public safety is the foundation on which our collective livelihood rests. I urge our elected officials to come together to enact policy initiatives to make our communities safer.”
Since Solomon’s call to action, CEOs from more than 220 companies have united, urging the Senate to “take immediate action” to end what they described as a gun violence epidemic. In the letter by CEOs for Gun Safety, heads of Dick’s Sporting Goods, Lululemon, Lyft, Levi Strauss, and Yelp refer to gun violence as a “public health crisis” that is devastating communities.
In light of a recent string of mass shootings, experts say CEOs have a responsibility to speak out, lead with empathy, and take meaningful action, said Lawson, who played an instrumental role in coordinating the counseling response to shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, and Stacy Rosenberg, a Carnegie Mellon University professor specializing in crisis and political communication.
Many people see CEOs as more trustworthy than political leaders, Lawson said. Research suggested that CEOs were more effective than politicians in influencing public opinion.
During the press conference, Kerr accused lawmakers of inaction: “I ask you, Mitch McConnell — I ask all of you senators who refuse to do anything about the violence and school shootings and supermarket shootings. I ask you: Are you going to put your own desire for power ahead of the lives of our children and our elderly and our churchgoers? Because that’s what it looks like. It’s what we do every week.”
In 2019, the chief executives of 145 companies — including Uber, DoorDash, and Airbnb — sent a letter to the Senate urging expanded background checks and expanded gun control following a string of mass shootings. “It’s absolutely their responsibility to use their platform and say, ‘Here’s how we are gonna address this,'” Lawson said.
Lead with empathy
Kerr’s father was assassinated in a shooting outside his Beirut office in 1984, an experience that may inform his stance on gun control. “Drawing from experience and speaking from the heart, as coach Kerr did in his speech, is always effective,” Rosenberg said.
Lawson added that business leaders should consider that many of their employees and shareholders could also have past trauma triggered by the Uvalde school shooting.
“Having a trauma-informed workplace means we better understand the depth and breadth of how people have been experiencing trauma in their life. It’s important to set up an atmosphere and climate in the workplace where people are able to talk about the things that are challenging for them, and when their mental health is not in good shape as a result of something like this, that they’re encouraged to take care of that,” Lawson said.
Take meaningful action
Experts say business leaders have to do more than just talk about gun control. They need to take meaningful action. Kerr, a longtime gun-control advocate, previously backed a bill requiring stricter background checks to purchase firearms, which passed the House of Representatives in 2021 but failed to get through the Senate.
Hours after the Uvalde school shooting, President Joe Biden addressed the nation, vowing to push for stricter gun laws. At the same time, Texas Republicans made it clear they would not entertain any gun restrictions. It was a reminder that Americans’ attitudes about gun violence and gun policy remain partisan.
Rosenberg said businesses could influence gun control by moving operations out of states that don’t employ responsible guards on gun ownership. “That’s easier said than done. Picking up a factory and picking up a headquarters isn’t necessarily feasible in the short term, but should be considered as a longer-term action,” Rosenberg said.
As businesses distinguish between meaningful short- and long-term actions, Lawson said one immediate thing business leaders could do was divest from financial investments that were misaligned with their stance. “The low-hanging fruit here is where you invest your money,” Lawson said. “Businesses have much deeper pockets to vote with than the average person. So they can take action by steering clear of any investments in firearms and ammunition manufacturers.”