“I see it as an extension of the fight to save our country and our democracy from extremism,” Emma Brown told me over the phone recently. She had just taken over as executive director of Giffords, the key gun-reform organization founded by former representative Gabby Giffords a little more than a decade ago, and we were talking about what the next 10 years of the movement might look like.
Brown was optimistic, especially after recent legislative wins, like 2022’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which would have seemed “impossible” just a handful of years ago. But Brown—a veteran of both Democratic senator Mark Kelly’s 2022 campaign and Joe Biden’s 2020 team in Arizona—was also clear-eyed about the challenges that lie ahead: “The stakes couldn’t be higher” for the November election, she said.
In a conversation, which has been edited for clarity and length, Brown sounded off on the apparent weakening of the NRA, the next big priorities of the gun-reform movement, and the importance of broadening the push beyond Democrats: “We really believe that we have to expand our coalition.”
Vanity Fair: You’re taking over Giffords at an interesting moment for the movement. Several years of uphill fighting have seemed to pay off with some real wins recently, at the federal level, with the Safer Communities Act, as well as with some action in the states. At the same time, we’ve seen some new challenges arise—I’m thinking of Bruen [the Supreme Court decision that did away with the legal requirement to show “proper cause” when applying for a concealed carry license in New York], for instance*.* If you had to take the temperature of the current state of the movement, where would you say we are right now compared with, say, 10 years ago?
Emma Brown: It’s a good question. So first, a lot of people look at this issue and feel like we’re trying to push a boulder. But I think if you step back on it, it has been a tremendous amount of success in a short period of time. In the last 10 years, we have gotten from a place where guns were really on the third rail of politics to a place where it is a major component of the Biden-Harris reelection campaign. I have seen that evolution myself, up close in battleground states across the country over the last 10 years. So there’s really been a significant political development.
Secondly, we’ve passed over 600 gun-safety laws during the time that Giffords has existed, really improving the strength of safety laws across the country. And then obviously, in 2022, we saw the major federal gun-safety law passed, the first one in 30 years, breaking a big logjam. So I think when you look at all of that, and the history of social movements in the United States, this one is relatively young—and the gun lobby had a century head start, but we are making legal and policy strides. And the cultural and political progress, which is part of what we’re really after, is not far behind. That’s obviously thanks to the groups that have been organizing for many decades—our law center being one of them, along with some of the more recent groups like March for Our Lives and Mothers of the Movement. I think we have supercharged in the last decade.
The gun lobby was obviously once seen as a kind of Goliath figure on this issue, but it has seemed somewhat chastened recently. We’ve seen the resignation of Wayne LaPierre at the NRA, but we’ve also seen just kind of the culture shift around this issue. Is it right to see the gun lobby as being in retreat? Or is that wishful thinking a little bit? Is there danger of spiking the ball too early on that?
No doubt, thanks to the work of the larger gun-violence-prevention movement and Giffords, the NRA and the lobby’s influence has significantly decreased. That is how we have been able to pass all those laws at the state level. It’s how we were able to pass the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. I will say that I think it would be a mistake to assume that the lobby’s grip is not strong on state legislatures and Congress. A big part of where I think we are going as an organization, and as a movement, is looking to finally break that grip. I think if you step back, there is a big gulf in America, as you know, between public opinion and public policy on guns—and you ask yourself, If Americans believe that gun violence is a very big problem, and nearly all of Americans—90% of Republicans—support the same safety measures, how are these not law?