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Dear pro-gun lawmakers (most Republicans and some Democrats):
Are you f*cking kidding me? We spend all our time fighting dumb tech regulations proposed by people like you, who are bought and paid for by entrenched interests who don’t want competition. You constantly use “safety” as the fig leaf for why all these regulations are necessary (I guess saying, “because the other guys wrote a big check to my campaign” doesn’t sound as good). And then you turn around and let people buy any kind of gun they want, anytime, because you believe it’s their inherent right to do so? Seriously?
There’s no reason to limit who can drive who in their car, or who can let who pay to sleep in their extra bedroom, or who can pick out a fantasy lineup online and place a bet on it, or who can and can’t work on a platform, or who can legally provide consumers with cosmetology services if you don’t think there’s any reason someone can’t just walk into a store and buy an assault rifle.
If you don’t believe in regulation and intrusion, great. Let freedom ring.
But then don’t tell me FanDuel can’t operate in your state because gaming is a sin, or that Eaze can’t deliver cannabis to consumers because you think all drugs are immoral, or that new forms of cryptocurrency can’t be bought and sold because you simply don’t understand it.
Don’t tell me that public safety, health and wellness, the proper role of government, morality and your conscience all factor in when it comes to regulating everyone else, but when you’re worried about a primary on the right, suddenly none of that matters when guns are involved.
Let’s be honest: There’s not a single activity any startup I’m aware of that engages in anything nearly as dangerous as selling someone a gun. That was true before Las Vegas. It’s true now.
So let’s make a deal: In every state, tech regulations should be judged against the most lenient gun law on the books. Giving someone the tool to commit mass murder is, by definition, the single biggest risk government can take. So if you’re comfortable with that, fine. But if so, there’s no reason whatsoever to impose onerous regulations on startups trying to offer new products and services.
If you think there should be some basic rules around buying guns, then let’s have some basic rules around regulating new startups. If you believe in actual regulation of gun sales, then we can at least have a reasonable conversation about the proper role of regulating each new type of technology, platform and idea.
But beware — if your argument really just comes back to protecting your campaign donors, as is usually the case with ride-sharing, homes-haring, worker classification rules, etc., we’re still going to very publicly call you out on your corrupt behavior.
The idea that we live in a society where politicians on one hand can vigorously defend someone’s right to conveniently access tools of mass murder and then want someone who does nails to apply for three different licenses is insane. Of course we’re becoming a violent and broken society. Of course we’re struggling to create new jobs and develop new industries when we let the companies who benefit from the status quo use campaign contributions as a way to stifle growth and innovation. Of course things are a total mess.
Look, I get it. I’ve run my share of campaigns. Worked in city government, state government and federal government. I’ve worked in the executive branch and in the legislature. I understand how it goes. You ran for office because you wanted to be somebody. You need attention, you need public validation and becoming a politician was your only way to get it. If you lose your job, you lose the attention and validation that comes with it. That’s like losing access to oxygen for you. So staying in the job comes ahead of all else, and that means not pissing off powerful interests like the NRA (sure, there are a few pols who are exceptions to the rule, but odds are you’re not one of them).
I don’t expect you to start putting the public welfare first. I don’t even expect you to do what’s right ahead of what’s expedient. But at least take a view and stick to it. If you want to carry the NRA’s water because you’re afraid they’ll take you out in a primary otherwise, then take those talking points they hand you about personal liberty and freedom and make that your governing philosophy. If you want to do the bidding of the casinos or hotel industry or organized labor or taxi medallion owners or the big banks and impose lots of regulations to keep startups and competition in check, fine. Do that — but at least extend it to instruments of murder while you’re at it.
Put your money where your mouth is. If you truly believe that government regulation amounts to a deprivation of individual rights and liberties, fine. I don’t agree in all cases, but I respect your right to believe it. But then act like it.
There’s no company — and certainly no startup trying to create new jobs — that should face less regulation than what it takes to purchase a gun in your state. So let’s make that the bar and either move regulation up or down the scale accordingly.
Pick a standard. Stick to it. We know you already struggle to live with yourself. It’s the least you can do.
Bradley Tusk is a venture capitalist, political strategist and writer. And he’s the founder and CEO of Tusk Holdings, which includes Tusk Ventures, Tusk Strategies, Kronos Archives, Ivory Gaming and Tusk Montgomery Philanthropies, which is working to bring mobile voting to U.S. elections. Tusk Ventures is the world’s first venture capital fund to work with and invest solely in high-growth startups facing political and regulatory challenges. Tusk previous served as campaign manager for Michael Bloomberg, as deputy governor of Illinois, and as communications director for Sen. Charles Schumer. He writes a regular column for Inc. and The Observer, hosts a podcast called Firewall, and is working a book about his adventures in protecting disruptors from the bad guys. Reach him @BradleyTusk.