The next morning, as the media did double duty, covering the sheer scale of the carnage and trying to understand the "why," ’I found myself painfully thinking of some events in my past. Was I in any way to blame? Had I shirked my responsibility to stand up to the rising tide of senseless gun violence?
My sense of dread came from a day four years earlier, when I was leading sales and business development at my startup Magnify.net. Back then, we powered lots of big sites like those for New York magazine, TV Guide, and The Root. Every day, we pushed and fought and drove to add clients and grow our bottom line. Profitability was right around the corner.
So this day, at our weekly sales meeting, we circulated the list of new deals that had been added to our roster of clients. One name stood out. “What is Ammoland?” I quizzed the salesperson whose initials were next to the deal.
“Oh, it’s a site for sports hunters,” he said casually. We moved on. Ammoland paid us modest fees -- a few hundred dollars a month -- to give it the tools to find, embed, and upload video to its site.
But the deal bothered me. In my previous life as a filmmaker, I’d made a documentary, “Firearms Freeway,”about the way guns traveled from Florida to New York. After that film, I got to know Dan Gross, who ran an organization called Pax. Gross became an activist on the issue of gun violence when his brother was shot and severely wounded in the 1997 Empire State Building shooting, which we reported on in the film. I admired his commitment and supported Pax over the years.
So I wondered: Did we have to power Ammoland's video? Was my job as CEO to bring the company in line with my politics? How would I explain to the sales exec who brought in Ammoland that his commissions would be cut because of my belief that gun violence was a plague on our country? Should I poll my board of directors? Should I quiz our investors, some of whom certainly were gun owners and maybe even NRA members? Was it my place to hold a referendum on ammunition at my company? Instead, I remained silent. The site was, after all, for sportsmen.
But secretly, I knew the cost of standing up was far more risky than doing nothing. Later that year, when my high-school-age son wrote a piece for Huffington Post titled “Bullet, Not Gun Control,"I got to see firsthand what wading into the Second Amendment debate feels like. He was viciously attacked online -- made the target of humiliation and rage in a way I’d never experienced. So I remained silent on Ammoland.
But now there was Las Vegas. I couldn’t help but think about the fusillade of bullets that rained down on the unsuspecting crowd of concertgoers -- those fathers, children, mothers, teens standing in a fenced-in field. They were accidental targets. They weren’t Republicans or Democrats, Jews or Catholics. Their targeting was powerfully, painfully, American.
The ammunition the shooter purchased brought pain and death. Had he purchased from Ammoland? Had he used Ammoland to choose his weapons? Had the existence of Ammoland helped him slide from being a "sportsman" to a mass murderer? And had I -- as the CEO who didn’t face the deadly economics of my client’s underlying enterprise -- not somehow shirked my responsibility to take a stand?
I hadn't looked at the Ammoland website in many years. With some trepidation, I opened a web browser.
My heart sank. Maybe it had changed, or maybe it had always been this way, but today Ammoland wears its politics front and center on its home page, defending gun owners' rights without any equivocation. The “Bump Stock” that turned Las Vegas into a killing field with modified automatic weapons is defended, and pending legislation is derided.
Did I have any hand in this web site's technology, video, or success? Did you? Do we as technologists, marketers, graphic designers, video storage hosts or other service providers have the right -- or the obligation -- to take a moral stand on how our services are used, and what they sell?
I don’t know that Stephen Paddock purchased ammunition from Ammoland. I’ll never know. But I do know that I allowed my technology to power a pro-gun, pro-NRA, anti-sensible-gun-legislation web site. And I regret that decision today.
So what can you do to support sensible gun control? Everytown.org and the Brady Campaigncan use your support. But also look at your actions, your portfolio, your representatives. At the grassroots, we can all stand up for change and make music festivals, movie theaters, churches, and schools safe for our families and our children.