The issue of gun violence and firearm reform has remained one of the country’s most contentious issues as of late.
There have been 57 mass shooting in the U.S. as of April 3, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. And with a shooting just this week at YouTube’s headquarters in San Bruno, Calif., there has been a renewed focus on workplace gun violence.
Now several Chicago tech and startup companies are taking a public stance on the issue of gun control and are supporting the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, a local advocacy group aiming to pass what they are calling common sense gun control laws.
Local startup Jiobit, Motorola Mobility, Techstars Chicago and the NewFounders Group sponsored an event Thursday at startup incubator 1871, where leaders on the topic educated the tech community on gun control laws they are working to pass.
In the city of Chicago alone, 454 have been shot and wounded, while 94 have been shot and killed so far this year, according to data from the ICHV. The group is working on bills like HB 772, which would empower individuals to petition to remove firearms from a family member they feel is dangerous, and HB 1465, which calls for increasing the age to purchase an assault weapon in Illinois from 18 to 21.
Thursday’s event began with a statement from Scott Stern, a senior associate at Chicago-based VC firm Origin Ventures, who grew up in Parkland, Fla., and attended Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people were killed in a mass shooting in February. Stern knows several teachers who still work at the high school, and four of the victims were members of his family’s synagogue.
“I’ve been back since and seen first-hand the damage that gun violence can have, not just on the victims, their families and the survivors, but on an entire region’s psyche,” Stern said at the event. “Standing here in Chicago, it seems almost trite, though, to talk about the impact gun violence can have on a local community. The sad truth is, many residents of Chicago know this a lot better than I ever could.”
“It can be so easy to go about our daily lives and say that gun violence impacts others, but not me, until it’s too late,” he continued. “It couldn’t be further from the truth and we can’t afford to be complacent anymore. The time for action is now.”
Jiobit, a company that makes wearable tracking devices that attach to kids’ clothing to help parents know where their children are at all times, decided to sponsor the event and take a stance on gun control because they feel that their mission in keeping kids safe is larger than just their business, said Lindsay Slutzky, the company’s chief marketing officer.
“We’re using our platform because we’re a company for kids and families—that’s why we feel we can really lead the charge on this,” Slutzky said in an interview with Chicago Inno. “If our mission is to keep kids safe and we’re not doing more besides just selling a hardware product, then we’re missing the boat.”
Like Jiobit, Techstars Chicago, an accelerator program for early-stage startups, also wanted to use their platform to bring awareness to the issue.
“People are dying everyday. Thoughts and prayers simply aren’t enough,” said Logan LaHive, the managing director of Techstars Chicago, in a statement to Chicago Inno. “I’m happy to support this effort to help reduce gun violence in Illinois.”
It’s not common that businesses publicly take a stance on political issues, but more are sharing their views on subjects, especially when it comes to gun control. It can be a risky business, though. Dick’s Sporting Goods pledged to stop selling assault-style firearms, but is now worried that sales could decline as a result.
Though Thursday’s event conjured support from Chicago’s tech scene, there were still some companies who were wary of being associated with it, said Wendy Heltzer, an associate professor at DePaul University and whose family also helped sponsor and organize the 1871 event.
“There were companies that said, ‘We support you, but because we don’t know how our customers feel, we don’t want our name on this,’” Heltzer said in an interview with Chicago Inno. “To me, that’s very upsetting. I think companies do need to be more open about their stance.”