Commentary

Did I Sell Ammunition To The Vegas Shooter?

On October 1, just after 10 p.m., my social media feeds lit up with reports of an "active shooter" at a Las Vegas music festival. Exhausted from a constant drumbeat of terrible news, I rested my eyes from the screen in my hand  and then did something I rarely do: I shut off my phone.

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.

advertisement

advertisement

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. 

7 comments about "Did I Sell Ammunition To The Vegas Shooter?".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 9, 2017 at 3:09 p.m.

    So when is it enough for you to say no to the money ?

  2. Steve Rosenbaum from MagnifyMedia, October 9, 2017 at 3:29 p.m.

    I'm not sure I understand the question.  For me to say enough, or for a company to take a moral stand?

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited replied, October 10, 2017 at 2:19 p.m.

    Both

  4. Michael Margolies from Michael Margolies Photography & Design, October 9, 2017 at 3:39 p.m.

    In order to have a clear and honest conversation about gun control we have to stick with the facts and work to fix the areas of greatest concern with the best hope of meaningful laws, not empty feel-good regulations that do nothing to curb the violence.

    To begin with, you have an error, perhaps accidental in your piece.

    "The “Bump Stock” that turned Las Vegas into a killing field with modified automatic weapons"

    The shooter was not using a bump stock to modify an automatic weapon. He used the device to automate a legal semi-auto weapon. And as Senator Diane Feinstein has mentioned on TV no law or regulation that she can think of would have prevented this terrible tragedy. He repeatedly passed every FBI background check and the bump stock was determined legal by Obama's ATF.

    So what's the answer? Enforcement of existing laws, put aside partisanship, stop ignoring the existing laws to encourage violence, which in turn is supposed to encourage sympathy and support for gun control. Stop avoiding the conversation about mental health and start actually doing something about it. Stop being politically correct and ignoring the 80% of gun violence that happens in liberally run cities whose pervasive anti-gun agenda and laws have proven to ignore the causes and are abject failures.

    Focus on the problems, not the tools, poverty, education, mental health, drugs, gang violence. These are the best ways to combat gun violence yet liberals do nothing to fix these, as it does not play well with their narrative and propaganda.

    Until these issues are honestly engaged and addressed gun owners and 2nd Amendment advocates are going to fight in every way possible to resist the anti-gun agenda. Ignoring the root causes of most gun violence and making no effort to protect the law abiding has been and will continue to fail.

    Working to enact regulations that do nothing but harm the rights of average good citizens while doing nothing to stem the violence is pointless and futile.

  5. Steve Rosenbaum from MagnifyMedia replied, October 9, 2017 at 3:47 p.m.

    Well, there's no doubt that Poverty, lack of Mental Health services, education, and drugs all play a role in gun violence. And suicide statistics related to access to guns are painful and avoidable. Do you think the NRA will use its considerable political influence to drive Republicans to fund such programs? If so - then I see your point. But simply calling laws ineffectual, without a plan to have an impact suggests that we will face this level of violence and death with no attempt to mitigate it. That I can't accept. 

  6. Kevin McCollum from None, October 10, 2017 at 6:33 p.m.

    Steven, 
    Understand the reflection, but I don't think it serves you well.
    Privately owned companies should have the ability to support causes, but I do not feel public companies should tread on this ice.  If you take money from shareholders, you have a responsibility to show a return on investment.  Picking a side on a divisive issue does not accomplish this, aside from a short-term bump from the buzz of picking.
    I dread the day when we have to pick Coke or Pepsi, not because of our taste preference, but because they line up behind the causes we support.
    Sure you could have supported an ammo website that sold ammo to the Las Vegas shooter.  Did your company support fast food?  Candy?  Alcohol?  Parma?  Tobacco?  Video game companies? (I could go on and on...)  Same ending, but a slower path.
    By not supporting the ammo site, would you have prevented responsible, law-abiding fathers from reconnecting with thier sons by teaching them how to hunt?  Would you have contributed to accident rate and death toll from car-deer crashes?
    The Democrats/left/liberals need to reach out to the other side (including the NRA) and compromise - putting a stamp of approval on the 2nd amendment, while asking for reasonable restrictions.  Republicans/right/conservatives need to realize that not every tiny step is the start of an avalance to outlawing all guns.
    We need to spend our time, effort, and money finding a middle ground - not fighting at the edges.

  7. John Grono from GAP Research, October 11, 2017 at 8:41 a.m.

    A well-written and thought-provoking column Steve.

    Especially since we've just finished another gun amnesty here in Australia.   It netted another 50,000 illegal firearms in a three-month period.

    I moved home around two years ago and when we were unpacking lo and behold there was my father's rifle - well actually his father's rifle - that I had completely forgotten about.   Despite living on the land I decided to hand it in.

    I also spotted a grammatical error.   It is a 'fusillade of bullets' - not fuselage.

Next story loading loading..