In Episode 98, Quinn & Brian discuss: common sense solutions to prevent gun deaths and destroy the gun lobby.
Our guest is: Fred Guttenberg, a gun safety activist and political troublemaker.
14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg was killed in her high school on February 14, 2018 in Parkland, FL. We usually like to make some jokes at this point, but not today. This is a loss that no person should have to experience — and it’s all the more painful for how utterly avoidable it is. Which side you choose to be on this issue should be as simple as answering this question: do you want to wake up and discover that one of your friends or loved ones has been shot? If the answer is no, then pay attention.
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Quinn: Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett.
Brian: And I'm Brian Colbert Kennedy.
Quinn: And this is the podcast where we give you the tools you need to fight for a better future for everyone, the context straight from the smartest people on earth, people out there on the front lines and we give you the action steps you can take to support them.
Brian: That's right. And our guests have been scientists, doctors, nurses, journalists, engineers and farmers, politicians, activists, educators, business leaders, astronauts. We had a reverend. I think we've had everyone.
Quinn: We have. We've had, importantly as well, mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and sons and daughters and everyone in between and outside the box. And just those relationships and those people that seem to be moving the needle the most these days. And that's what we're going to get into today. This is your friendly reminder, you can send questions, thoughts, and feedback to us on Twitter @Importantnotimp, or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brian: And you can join tens of thousands of other smart people and subscribe to our free weekly newsletter at importantnotimportant.com.
Quinn: That's right. Brian, this week's episode is going to give you, listeners, the context and tools you need to help stop school shootings in America.
Brian: Sounds amazing and necessary.
Quinn: It is. And yeah, our guest is Fred Guttenberg. Fred is a man that has been through so much in the past few years, has decided to use the remainder of his life to fight for common sense gun control and to inspire others to make the great change that's so possible and so needed in America today. And just a quick technical note, you'll hear Brian at the beginning of this conversation, and then that's it. Thanks to California falling into the ocean, Brian's internet turned off 10 minutes in maybe.
Brian: Yeah, maybe.
Quinn: And we never got him back. So he's going to hear this for the first time just like you.
Brian: I'm looking forward to it.
Quinn: Anyways. Yeah. Let's let's go talk to Fred. Let's let's hear his story. Our guest today is Fred Guttenberg and together we're going to find out how you can help stop school shootings in America. Fred, welcome to the show.
Fred Guttenberg: Hey, thanks for having me.
Brian: We are very, very happy to have you on today. Thank you so much. Let's get started by just telling everybody, Fred, just a real quick who you are and what you do, sir.
Fred Guttenberg: I am, I guess what they would call a gun safety activist, a political troublemaker.
Fred Guttenberg: My life as those things began February 14th, 2018 when my daughter, Jaime and my son, Jesse went to school and only one of them came home. They both were there for the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Thank God, my son, Jesse, wasn't killed, but he did, unfortunately, hear the bullets that were killing his sister. And because of what happened to my family, I live with a guilt that I never put my voice into this fight before when it was other people's kids. And anyone who knows me now, knows I'm never going to shut up going forward because there are still too many kids, too many adults, too many Americans being shot and killed every day. So this is now my life.
Quinn: Well, thank you for sharing that. You have our most sincere apologies, that you have to share it, that you have to have had this experience and your family's had to have this experience, especially your son. But we hopefully, we can help you move the needle to make this stop happening.
Fred Guttenberg: Thank you.
Quinn: Fred, again, a quick reminder, our goal is just to provide some good context for this question at hand, for this topic. And then we're going to dig into some action-oriented questions. We'll try not to go off the rails too much, but occasionally that happens and that's okay. And then we'll get into what everybody out there can do about what's going on. Fred, I probably should have tinkered with this ahead of time. We usually start with one question that kind of sets the tone for things. And instead of saying, "Tell us your life story." We like to ask, Fred, why are you vital to the survival of the species? And it can be a little silly and people often laugh, but we do encourage them to be bold and honest.
Brian: We get a lot of laughter.
Quinn: And we get a lot of scoffing, but usually from some scientist who's just figured out how to pull drinking water out of thin air or something like that. It's something interesting, why they're out there doing what they do. And obviously you've just explained why you do what you do. So we can skip past this one if you like. Or if you feel like there's something you realized that-
Fred Guttenberg: No, listen, I don't know that I would call myself vital, but I want to keep you from being shot. I want to keep those you love from being shot. I want to keep those you love who have friends and cousins and family and parents and sons and daughters from being shot and from ending up having a lifetime of consequences from getting shot or worse, ending up dead. And the reality is that's happening right now for 40,000 Americans a year are dying every year in this country, and the number is getting worse. And there's more than that number who get injured and live with permanent injuries every year. Because we have, as a country, done nothing about the issue of gun violence. Am I vital? I don't know, but if we do the things that I would like to do, fewer people are going to be shot and fewer people are going to be killed.
Quinn: That's an obvious, if incredibly admirable and a goal that it is excusable that we've addressed so far, but all we can do is help you push forward, help the movement push forward. Just some quick context for folks and you just alluded to some of it.
Fred Guttenberg: Sure.
Quinn: Friends, listeners, we haven't talked too much about guns on this show. You might be wondering how gun violence fits into our prism of the science questions and issues that are affecting everyone right now. Well, as Fred alluded to, 40,000 Americans are killed by guns each year. And that does not include the probably 10x number that are injured. That's over 100 Americans killed every day from guns. And as you said, it's-
Fred Guttenberg: That's exactly right.
Quinn: ... on the increase. And a large number of those are suicides. Tens of thousands or homicides, school shootings. And you can help me here. Because it looked as though through all my research, that a hard, agreed upon number is difficult to pin down because there's no real nationally accepted definition. Every town, the group, every town claims there've been 594 incidents of gunfire on school grounds since 2013 resulting in 216 deaths.
Fred Guttenberg: Correct.
Quinn: And 425 injuries. Is that around the correct number?
Fred Guttenberg: No, listen, that is correct. The good news is for the past six months, school shootings aren't happening.
Quinn: So weird.
Fred Guttenberg: But that's because we have a pandemic.
Fred Guttenberg: That is the one beneficial side effect, but unfortunately, during this pandemic this administration unleashed a gun surge on this country and the level of gun buying, especially in the early part of the pandemic, went through the roof. They made a big focus of treating gun stores as essential businesses, not non-essential. And with the fear and panic that people had early on about economic insecurity and other thing, a lot of people ran and bought guns, a lot a new first time gun owners, a lot of people who were gun owners who bought more guns. They loaded up on ammunition. And we've already seen around the country the increases in gun violence as a result. People who are first time buyers, or even who weren't first time buyers, they don't lock their weapons up so children end up taking guns. And as we reopen schools, I fear we're going to see the consequences of this as well, with an increase in gun violence at school.
Quinn: It's unfortunate that it seems like one plus one equals two a little bit in this situation, because we do have a well trodden path of this. I think it's, again, important to note, and this is something we have dug into before. And I think it seems to affect in some way both sides of this thing, that we are by design in some ways, a troubled country. Mental health, which we've talked about before and we're going to continue to talk about, is on the decline in our country and around the world, certainly because of COVID and because of inequality and climate change and psychiatric disorders and substance abuse and genetics and toxic environments, brain imbalances.
Quinn: The point is that's the underlying layer, but we are not only troubled, we have for since the Second Amendment, whatever that is 229, 230 years, allowed our citizens to arm themselves and to sell arms among themselves with only a popery of very light regulations. And this enables those 40,000 Americans to be killed each year. And that includes 216 students and teachers killed in their classrooms in just the past seven years. And the names everyone recognizes and remembers, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook in Columbine and Santa Fe and Umpqua and Parkland. And the second order effects of these killings and of so many wounded, many of them just children, is devastating grief and mourning, but also purpose-driven action. And this fight for a better future, a safer future is more prevalent than it's ever been. And that's, listeners, where you come in and where today's guest come in.
Quinn: So that is our goal today, to understand how you can help stop these school shootings in America, because they don't really happen a lot of other places. Fred, and I want to be clear, that we can, if you're not comfortable with this, we can skip this part, but statistics haven't moved the needle for people lately, whether any of these science, all of California and Oregon is on fire right now and statistics aren't moving the needle and sea level rise and things like that. So stories are what matter. And I wonder if you wouldn't mind sharing with us a little bit about your daughter, Jaime?
Fred Guttenberg: Well, I would love to, but I want to say something about statistics.
Fred Guttenberg: Actually, the needle has moved. The majority of Americans do support gun safety. In fact, over 90%. The majority of gun owners are saying they support gun safety. The house of representatives in the last election flipped primarily on this issue. The only person in Florida who ran a statewide campaign on gun safety, Nikki Fried, who ran for Commissioner of Agriculture and Business Services. She won in Florida. So the needle is moving. The issue is there's a well-funded, although they're not-
Quinn: Not as well as they used to be.
Fred Guttenberg: Gun lobby, that manages to hold a certain party and their legislators hostage. And that has prevented legislation at a national level, but we see things happening through states and cities across the country. So I don't want people to think nothing is happening because the needle is moving. It's slow and it's steady, but it's moving. But the person with the biggest ability to do something at all, the biggest bully pulpit, the current occupant of the White House, unfortunately, he's on the hotline with the NRA. So we need to fire him and we need to flip the Senate and get rid of McConnell will refuse to do anything. And we're going to on November 3rd.
Fred Guttenberg: My daughter, listen, she was my everything. My children are. Anyone who knew me before February 14th will tell you that other than my work, my life revolved around my kids, hockey with my son, dance with my daughter, camping, because I did a lot of camping with the kids, schoolwork. Just sitting down and watching television. But always with them. We were not the types of parents that ever took a vacation without our kids. Everything was with them. And my daughter. She was everything to me. She was a beautiful, fierce 14-year-old kid who fought for others. My daughter hated bullies and she would inject herself if she saw a bully bullying somebody at school. She was pretty petite and I always got worried about her safety, but she was a really tough-minded kid and I wasn't going to stop her from doing it.
Fred Guttenberg: She dedicated her time to kids with special needs. She wanted to be a pediatric physical therapist when she grew up. She even knew where she wanted to work, a place in Palm Beach that does surgeries on kids with limb deformities and it was her dream to help a kid walk for the first time, who couldn't because of different physical issues. My daughter believed everybody who she came in contact with was just like her, had the same rights to all the opportunities that she had. And she treated everyone that way. The world lost a really special soul. She was definitely the toughest person I knew. And she stands on my shoulders every day, pushing me forward.
Quinn: Thank you for sharing that. I had done some reading and I saw that she was a dancer and loved to dance. And I thought my grandmother was a Rockette back in the day. So while I did not get those genes and I'm objectively terrible, I have a huge appreciation for the work and the passion that goes into it, especially starting so young and looking forward to a lifetime of being able to use that and learn from it in so many different ways. And I love that she wanted to go into physical therapy. Is there something specific that was a catalyst for that?
Fred Guttenberg: Well, she's a mini me to my wife and my wife is a pediatric occupational therapist working with children with special needs. So that definitely played a role.
Quinn: That makes sense. Well, there's nothing quite like a 14-year-old who already knows that they want to help people. That is something very special. Okay. Fred, could you give us a brief clarification of exactly what changes in laws you are fighting for? Because from everything I understand, you've taken a very pragmatic policy approach to where we can hopefully go forward. If you can just kind of give us the bullet list of that and then we can use that as the tone for everything.
Fred Guttenberg: Well, my first goal is what I said the day after my daughter was killed. And it really kind of settled in me that I was a victim of gun violence. I want to break the fucking gun lobby. That has been my goal number one, because they interfere with doing things that can keep us from being the next victim of gun violence. And I think we're succeeding in that, in ways big and small. And when we get them out of the decisions about our safety, here's what I do want to do. Because this isn't a Second Amendment argument. That bullshit is over. And we see the end of that BS now. There's all those Second Amendment defenders who said it was to protect from overzealous government. They're now out on the streets with their weapons, shooting people in order to defend this particular president. So they're now part of that overzealous government. So the BS on that is over. And this is about our safety, not about the rights to legal, lawful gun owners, but about our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Fred Guttenberg: So where do we start? Number one, background checks. The bill has already passed the house. Get it through the Senate and Joe Biden will sign it. But it shouldn't just be on weapons. It should be extended to ammunition. I've been working to pass Jaime's Law, which will extend background checks to ammunition. And the reason why I believe so strongly in that, we already have 400 million weapons on the streets of this country right now, many of them in the hands of gun owners who are prohibited purchasers, or maybe will end up in the hands of gun owners who are prohibited purchasers. In this country, by law, if you're a prohibited purchaser of a firearm, you're also prohibited from buying ammunition, but there's no requirement for a background check on ammunition. So prohibited purchasers or prohibited buyers of weapons who happen to be in possession of them anyway can just walk into any old store and buy the bullets. So we need to shut down that loophole. So background checks on firearms and on ammunition. That's number one.
Fred Guttenberg: I believe strongly if you want to solve this problem in a long-term sustainable way, repeal a federal law known as PLCAA, which shields this industry from lawsuits. The greatest, most sustainable way to fix any problem is to put people's ability to shield themselves from liability on the line. There's an expense to that, but there's also potential criminal activity when you can start showing they lied or they didn't follow the law in the way they marketed their weapons. And listen, I've got a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission now, on the way Smith & Wesson marketed weapons to the killer of my daughter. If we want lasting change, make that industry responsible for what they do, kind of the way it happened with tobacco. And it'll never be the same.
Fred Guttenberg: I think we need to ban high capacity magazines. I also believe we need to ban assault weapons. Now, I was slow to get there. I, for the first year and a half, two years was not calling for that. And partly because if you call for a ban on assault weapons, it tends to, with the other side, shut down conversation on other reasonable things. But then the other side started doing something. They started showing up at peaceful moments with those assault weapons strapped around their shoulder. And they started using those assault weapons as a form of armed intimidation. That changed everything for me. Because we now know not only will they show up as a form of armed intimidation, they will use those weapons and those weapons are destructive. There are many articles that have been written about the effect of those bullets on our bodies and how they just simply rip them to shreds.
Quinn: They're designed to do that.
Fred Guttenberg: So we need to-
Quinn: I said they are inherently designed to do that.
Fred Guttenberg: Yes, yes. So we need to ban those assault weapons. We need to raise the purchase age of firearms to 21. The reality is kids, especially young boys, and I've got the soon to be 20-year-old teenager, who I love with every ounce of my being. And I love all of his friends, but truth is they're a bunch of knuckleheads still.
Quinn: They're boys. I mean, we're idiots.
Fred Guttenberg: Yeah. And they can still be impulsive and emotional. So we need to change the age 21. We need to allow the federal government to study gun violence and fund that. So we need to fund the CDC and give them the ability and the money to say, "We're going to study this to see." This is the true public health crisis, because listen, we all know it is, but by not studying it, they don't have to validate it. And we need to say, "No more of that. Too many people are dying. It's time for you to study this as the public health crisis that it is and make recommendations because of that." So there's a whole host of pragmatic, reasonable things that can be done. I haven't even gone close to all of the other things and other loopholes that should be closed and things like track and trace and ghost guns, which we all, I think ...
Fred Guttenberg: And again, you guys are into the research side of things, so you probably know what ghost guns are, but you can go buy components in different locations, 80% in one location, 20% on the other, you take it home, you put it together, you have a gun without a serial number that works. And then you can walk in as a prohibited purchaser to any old store and buy the bullets. We need to shut down that ghost gun pipeline. We need to do something about 3D weapons, which to me, in the long run or the scariest thing, because people can just start making their guns at home. There's much we need to do. And every day that we're not at a national level dealing with these things is a threat to your life.
Quinn: Well, thank you for summing that up. It seems so obvious and again, so pragmatic. And like you said, doesn't include the 300 loopholes that also should be closed. But that these seem like as, has been put, the common sense moves. Now, those, for the most part, haven't been completed because there's obviously folks in America who have no interest, to put it lightly, in enacting any of those things. And they're mostly, as you pointed out, the big money that is behind the gun lobby and the fringe, mostly white people marching in the streets with AR-15s, playing military dress up. And it turns out, who are willing to use those guns.
Quinn: And again, they have this fairly predictable list of reasons that they drag out. Like you said, the Second Amendment, which is bullshit. They'll say things like their guns are for hunting or for self-defense, or of course, that guns don't kill people that, that people kill people. So ignoring for a moment, again, all of the data that shows that the frequency of school shootings in the US is so much higher than many other countries combined. And again, to be clear, those are countries that have people too, people who want to and do hurt other people and people with psychiatric disorders and bullied people, whatever. They have the same cross section of life that we do, but they don't have what we have. They don't have 14-year-olds and kindergarteners who are shot to death.
Quinn: Fred, I am always eager on this show and the 10 times the number of conversations offline to find common ground where I can, but it is difficult to find it with some of these folks, no matter how you ... Like you said, so many Americans are now for gum control, but the people who are pulling the strings, I do wonder if there are any lessons you've learned in the past two years about how, again, pragmatically to talk to these folks who are funding the efforts against these new common sense gun control laws. Where have you been able to find purchase with these folks, if at all?
Fred Guttenberg: Well, I guess it depends on who these folks are. So if you're talking about the typical gun owner in this country, most of them are so reasonable and pragmatic. And when I talk about what I want to do, they're all in and they agree. If you're talking about a small subset, which make up the leadership of these organizations and a few of the really radicalized gun owners, you're not going to talk to them. They are all in and we need to defeat them. If you're talking about those who are forming the roadblock in Washington, DC. And I mean the current occupant of the White House and McConnell and others in the Senate, we need to fire them. We're not going to change them. November 3rd to me is everything. I don't mean to be overly dramatic here.
Quinn: It's impossible on this show. Don't worry.
Fred Guttenberg: Bu this is not election like other elections where you hold your nose and you say, "Ah, they're all the same. Maybe a little different." No, there's a stark, stark contrast here. If we send the current guy and the current Senate back, I think we all can probably imagine what the effects on democracy would be, which are horrific. But you can also end the conversation on gun safety. It's not happening. Legislatively, it won't and judicially, we're going to end up with more Cavanaugh's. So it'll be over. It is that dramatic, but, and I can say this with certainty because I just wrote a book about it called Find the Help. I've gotten to know Joel Biden, one of the greatest people I've ever met in my life. And he is so committed to fixing this problem and doing something about it. If we send him to Washington, DC and we flip the Senate, not only does gun safety get done. What publicans in the Senate will vote for it?
Fred Guttenberg: That's the thing that people don't get. This, to me, is not a partisan issue. If a bullet hit you, it doesn't ask first, "Are you Republican or Democrat?" So it is a non-partisan issue, but the response has been starkly partisan. And it does so in a way where senators have not even had to state their opinion because Mitch McConnell won't even let it come up. So if we flip the Senate and if we bring on Joe Biden, you will see Republican senators join democratic senators and vote for gun safety measures. We've seen it in the house. Republican house members voted with democratic house members to pass gun safety that is just waiting to go to the Senate right now. There are governors who are Republicans and are doing stuff. Larry Hogan in Maryland. John Kasich in Ohio tried. He brought me to testify on gun safety issue. So there are Republicans who believe as deeply about this as I do, but we've got to help them succeed. And that involves firing several people that need to go.
Quinn: I love that. Our audience, besides the elected officials, can be fairly young, but I want to be clear for those listeners who might not be aware that the types of weapon that was used to murder your daughter and so many others, and the style of weapon that was used to murder 20 young children in Newtown, was once banned, if briefly, in this country.
Fred Guttenberg: It was.
Quinn: The assault weapons were banned for a decade, but it's of course, it's complicated. So this was, I think it was 1994 to about 2004.
Fred Guttenberg: That is correct.
Quinn: It expired. It was never renewed, of course. It was challenged in court and those people lost. Now, I mean, from everything I gathered, research into the ban showed that was only moderately effective. I think gun crimes involving assault weapons went down a little bit, crimes with other guns went up, but this was the key issue, was the law didn't actually ban those guns. It banned any new manufacturing of those guns.
Fred Guttenberg: Correct.
Quinn: And so the number of-
Fred Guttenberg: ... but you still have plenty that were out there. Correct.
Quinn: Yeah. The numbers I was able to verify as far as I could, were that there were 1.5 million assault weapons in 25 to 50 million large capacity magazines that were grandfathered in to this tenure law. So clearly, great that it existed at one point, but as always, the devil is truly in the details there. And if you've still got 1.5 million AR-15s and the like on the market, and able to be sold individually with no background checks from person to person, then it just doesn't fucking matter. Fred, you've talked so much about how the people in power and the people with the money are the ones that need to be replaced. And at the same time, the ones who are going to make a difference. And we do try to look locally as well, when we're talking about these kinds of issues, because often that's where people can have the most impact.
Quinn: So I want to talk for a minute about what happened in Parkland and most importantly, what happened before Parkland, before your daughter was murdered. From everything, and please again, correct me anywhere I'm wrong here, but there had been a number of prior red flags about this person.
Fred Guttenberg: Correct.
Quinn: Tips called into the sheriff's office, YouTube videos, Snapchat videos, calls to the FBI, documented behavioral issues, he'd made threats against other students, been kicked out of your daughter's school twice, I believe, was in Instagram groups where he talked about keeping black people in chains, swastikas carved into guns. The sheriff's log showed 45 calls made about Cruz or his family in the prior 10 years, but he was still able to legally buy a firearm.
Fred Guttenberg: Correct.
Quinn: And in some other country that's obviously not going to be the case, but this was someone who'd proven over and again that he had publicly made intentions to use violence on others that others had called in on. And yet in Florida, in America, he was able to legally buy this assault weapon. Now I want to take a step back. Because that's what happened in your city, in Florida. And you've talked about, again, about holding the manufacturers and the marketers of these weapons liable. What were the failures in Parkland prior and during and after that specifically are transferable across other American towns and cities and states. Where did the system fail to prevent your daughter's murder?
Fred Guttenberg: Well, before I answer that, first things first, yeah, the boy who murdered my daughter today would not be able to buy his weapons because following Parkland, we did raise the age 21 and we pass red flag laws, which would have triggered a different kind of action than what was previously available. And in today's Florida environment, he would not be able to buy those weapons, but those laws didn't exist back then. Here's the deal about the failures. And by the way, failures, after these shootings, we always get to go back and look at the failures and there are always going to be failures and things you can look at and say, "This was a mess up. It wasn't the gun, it was the failures."
Fred Guttenberg: But the reality is the access to these weapons ensures that these things will happen again. Listen, everyone failed. I'm suing all of them. The Broward Sheriff's Office failed, the school district failed. The, to me, the most significant failure happened 30 days before the shooting and that was with the FBI. They had direct, specific, actionable intelligence, and I have a very active lawsuit against them. And typically you're not able to sue the FBI because of different immunities that they have. And they filed all these motions to dismiss and we actually just prevailed on all their motions to dismiss and this is going to trial. It's a really, actually, it's a very big deal, right now, the lawsuit, because the FBI really relies on those immunities.
Fred Guttenberg: What happened is they have a call center that received a call 30 days before. And the person at the call center should have triggered this call up to further review by other law enforcement agencies. And the thing is, this person from the call center told the caller that in fact that was going to happen.
Quinn: And so there was actually a process that was supposed to be in place is what you're saying.
Fred Guttenberg: That was supposed to be in place. But it failed to happen. And had the protocols and processes being followed, this person would have been most likely apprehended and this thing would have been short circuited, but it didn't. And the caller to the FBI call center was under the understanding that it was going to happen. And so didn't reach out to other levels of law enforcement because was under the impression the FBI was on it. We all know the reality. They weren't. And 17 people died.
Quinn: Right. And again, those were the processes that were already in place. And now you said that Florida did enact a number of laws. They raised the gun buying agent and a few other items.
Fred Guttenberg: And red flag and other items.
Quinn: And red flag. Were there other states that reacted similarly in that period, or since?
Fred Guttenberg: Yeah. Listen, you can look at the states following Florida. Red flag laws started passing all over the country. Other states have raised the age. Other states, whether you look at California, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington State. I mean, all over the country, implementing new gun safety laws to prevent certain things from happening again. And these gun safety laws are working, are saving lives. Unfortunately, the industry is just as aggressive at trying to force more guns on the street. So it's a never ending battle. And until we have federal legislation to deal with this, you're always going to be looking at your safety is dependent upon the city next to you or the state next to you. Because guns can be driven across state lines, go across city lines. And that's why we must do this at a national level.
Quinn: And it's clearly not apples to oranges in really any way, but it's the same thing when we talk about air pollution or COVID, whatever it might be on the show, which is that state boundaries don't don't mean anything.
Fred Guttenberg: No.
Quinn: These emissions and viruses are everywhere. And that's why as much as we are United States, and there's so many various arguments that we can have an entirely different episode about state's rights versus federal action, size of government. In some places, it is vitally important that the federal government take overwhelming comprehensive action. Otherwise, it just doesn't fucking matter what each city and state is doing.
Fred Guttenberg: Correct.
Quinn: Because your flanks are still left completely exposed to, like we have seen on the TV over the past six months, these white guys and military fatigues and helmets and their boots bought from Walmart, showing up with these guns strapped across them. And we go, how can that be? And then they start using them. And we go, it's because we've let them do that and they're able to do that and it is a fundamental design of this place and has become a full on breakdown. And it's scary, with elected officials either like McConnell, who might be one of the worst people in history, that are not just negligent on these things, but stonewalling them entirely to people like Trump and the others like him, who are writing op-eds and saying things in the news and on Twitter to insight violence, which again, would look different than any other country, except for we allow ourselves to be armed and to trade these arms.
Quinn: Fred, you've got your new book that came out. Our show's going to come out on the 21st or 22nd here. So your book will have been out a week. Very exciting. The title of it I could not love any more than I do, as a long time of fan, Find the Helpers. But as far as I understand it, it isn't really ... The book isn't really about gun legislation. It's about your journey.
Fred Guttenberg: Correct.
Quinn: I believe. And I, again, in my research, I know that losing your daughter wasn't the start of your journey through grief. I know your brother had just died a few months prior.
Fred Guttenberg: Four months prior from cancer related to 9/11. My brother ran the triage for the World Trade Center. Was in the World Trade Center when it actually collapsed and somehow or another, he and the team of people who were with, the room they hit out in, did not collapse. And they spent 16 days there treating people. He was a physician. But he eventually succumbed to cancer because of that exposure. And listen, my book, I do tell his story. I tell my daughter's story. I talk about what happened. But the main message of my book is about the amazing people who either were part of my life or became a part of my life because of both of those moments and how they carried me, how they helped me to go forward, how they helped me to be okay every single day.
Fred Guttenberg: And I hope that when people read my book, that no matter what they're going through, if nothing else, they immediately think, you know what, I need to figure who my helpers are and I need to do a better job of staying connected to my helpers. And more, maybe as important, they figure out I'm actually doing okay now, who can I be a helper to? Because in spite of the way things maybe feel right now in this political climate and with the pandemic, we are all incredibly social people, connected people and we need each other. My book is not a book where I talk about despair. My book is a book where I hope people will read it and say, "I can be okay. I'm going to be okay." And it's a book about hope and going forward. And it's also a message to our younger people with life lessons on perspective and strength and resilience and reminding them all, no matter what you're going through in life, you're going to be okay. You can get through it. And that sometimes in life's toughest moments, heroes and leaders are born. That's the general gist of the book. I tell the stories of all the amazing people and connections and how they happened. And I hope people like it.
Quinn: Obviously, again, none of us have a time machine, but a world where this book didn't have to exist would be wonderful. But I imagine there will be so many people who can take strength from it. In thinking about that, and I've thought about this a lot lately, I've always been drawn to the writings of Viktor Frankl. Many that have guided me, especially in this moment and thinking about your book, I think of just a few, which is first is what you have experienced no power on earth can take from you. And all we have suffered, all this is not lost, though it has passed we have brought it into being. Each man is questioned by life and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life.
Quinn: And the purpose of these conversations that we have here, again, whether they're about cancer or the ocean or school shootings are intended to help our audience act with purpose, which is to say, to make sure that they understand fully the context behind what's going on, to identify how they can relate to it, if they can, how it matches up with their own values. And then again, to take the most effective action, to move the needle in whatever the subject might be. And obviously, your daughter being murdered is going to push a father one way or the other into action or seclusion. So I really, I appreciate you sharing how you found your purpose and making such a focus of it, paying it forward, bringing it back to the people who were in your life and the new ones in your life, and then paying it forward.
Quinn: Because we look at these, I mean, I feel like every week I get sent news about the statistics about the young people and right now, because of COVID and being trapped at home and can't go to school and their future with climate change. And it's, they pull these children up to age 21. And in the past six months, a quarter have considered suicide. And you just go, what have we done and how can we fix this? Because the 65-year-old white men who've been in office for 30 years just don't give a shit because that's not their future. It is the future for these young people, the future, unlike your daughter, for these children who still have a future. We have to do better. And anyways, I'm just thankful that you have decided to frame it this way and I hope that a lot of people benefit from it.
Fred Guttenberg: Well, I appreciate that. So thank you.
Quinn: Fred, our goal is to provide, again, specific action steps our listeners can take to support your mission, as we like to say what their voice, their vote and their dollar. So I want to hone in on that. Clearly, we haven't talked at all here about November 3rd. This is the day of reckoning, clearly. Do you have any ... One of the things we like to talk about, their voices. What are the big, actionable, but specific questions that our audience should be asking of their current representatives and these people that are running for office, specific to your story and your mission?
Fred Guttenberg: Well, listen, November 3rd is everything to me. And I think people need to choose candidates who A, behave with decency and civility, because the modeling of decency and civility alone will tamp down rhetoric and make us safer. I think people need to choose candidates who clearly have an easier time telling the truth. And I think candidates need to know where ... I'm sorry. People need to know where candidates stand on the issue of guns and gun safety, because failure on this issue in another election simply puts your life at risk. And if your life is worth living to you and those of who you love, if their lives are worth it to you, then this is an issue you need to vote on. There's no exceptions to that. This is issue that we can start solving, but we have to vote for people who plan to support us in that mission. So this election is everything. We've got to fire the current occupant of the White House. We gotta flip the Senate. And if we do those two things. I think we're going to be on a path back to being okay and on a path back to addressing the concrete things we need to do to start making those we love safer.
Quinn: Sounds pretty good to me. Obviously folks, if you're out there and registered to vote and mail and ballots are starting to get sent everywhere.
Fred Guttenberg: Can I say something about that?
Quinn: Oh God, please.
Fred Guttenberg: Start now. Okay. Don't wait. This election is not like other elections. Have a plan executed early. If you're able to order your ballot now, get it now. Get it in the mail now. Put it in a Dropbox. Okay. No games. If you're able to do early voting, do it. Do not wait until election.
Quinn: Do it now.
Fred Guttenberg: Do not wait. Have a plan now. We're under 60 days, where I think today is 55 or 56. So it is time to figure out how you're going to vote and make your vote count.
Quinn: Absolutely. There's a number of places that have sprung up out of necessity, to help support your efforts. If you just go like, great, how do I find out if I'm registered? So many come to mind, the easiest one, go to votesaveamerica.com. They have built some wonderful tools. That's a folks over Vote Save America and Crooked Media, some wonderful tools to guide you. I mean, it couldn't be easier, like a kindergartener could do it, to figure out if you're registered. If not, to change your address, to get your ballot. And then from then on once you're done, to find a way to volunteer, to support, again, these Senate candidates, house candidates, Joe Biden and Senator Harris. There's so much you can do every one of these fucking days for the next 55 days. Fred, what about their dollar? What can folks do? I know, obviously we'd love for them to go out and buy and read your book. Do you want to talk about Orange Ribbons For Jaime at all?
Fred Guttenberg: Yeah. Real quick. Listen, that's the foundation that we started to honor the memory of my daughter. We do things that would have been important to Jaime. So we've given money to this place called the Paley Institute, which is where Jaime wanted to work, to the Humane Society because Jaime was dog obsessed, to different organizations that work with children with special needs. But to me, the most important thing we've done is a scholarship program that we started for kids of all abilities. We have three buckets to that. One is for kids who want to go to school and major in something where you're going to be helping others, maybe it's occupational therapy or physical therapy. You have to have a one year background in dance because my daughter danced and you have to have a background in community service because my daughter did.
Fred Guttenberg: The second bucket is kids who want to major in dance, but they need to have a background in community service. And then the third bucket, which is not a place where you typically see scholarships, is for kids with special needs. And that's why we call it the scholarship for kids with all abilities, who may not go to a traditional college, may go to some other form of post high school education, but they can use some resources as well. So we've set up this scholarship program. My daughter will never get to go to college, but I hope that we'll be able to continue raising the funds to help send other kids to college on her behalf.
Quinn: Well, I love that. That's awesome. And again, that is, orangeribbonsforjaime.org, I believe.
Fred Guttenberg: Correct. And Jaime spelled J-A-I-M-E.
Quinn: Perfect. That's super helpful. And again, the book is called Find the Helpers and we'll put up in the show notes links to both of those things and where you can find the book. It's out now. We're just about out a time here and I know you've got to run. We have a last few questions we ask everybody, Fred. The first one seems a little ridiculous in the context of our conversation. Usually it's a little more ambiguous for our scientists and such. I'll ask it anyways. When was the first time in your life when you realized you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful?
Fred Guttenberg: Wow. I've always lived a pretty kind of small circle. My wife has always focused on my work, my family and my business. But I've always known my voice can resonate. There are those who knew me up until February 14th, 2018, who would have told you I'm a relentless pain in the ass. And that quality has existed in me since I'm a kid. And I think I'm using that quality now to do what I'm doing. So I don't know that I have a great answer to that question, but it sure started after February 14th.
Quinn: Fred, who is someone in your life that's positively impacted your work in the past six months?
Fred Guttenberg: Without question, our next president, Joe Biden.
Quinn: Could you talk for just a minute about that? Obviously, you've lived different lives, but he is someone who's endured just so much.
Fred Guttenberg: He is a man who has endured horrible grief, who took the time to reach out to me and to spend a lot of time, not just a couple of minutes, on multiple occasions talking about grief and helping me to get through what I've gone through, helping me to understand what it's going to look like, talking to me about mission and purpose. What you see with him, this decent, civil, empathetic person, that is who he is.
Quinn: I'm so glad that he has been in your life. And hopefully he can be a little leader for us with again, so many people going through so much, to have someone who has spent their entire life, frankly, going through these things, is something that cannot be faked, clearly. Fred, what is your self-care these days? When you're feeling overwhelmed, which I can't even imagine what that means for you, but what is your distraction? We hear everything from ice cream to exercise, to going to a walk in the woods.
Fred Guttenberg: I'm a car nut. I'm a car nut. I have a convertible. I get out my convertible. I turn on Billy Joel and the rest of the world disappears.
Quinn: That sounds pretty damn good. Last one, anything else you would like to say to speak truth to power, to get those last folks out there to do the right thing?
Fred Guttenberg: Failure to vote is not an option. Not in this election. This is not like the other elections. Your failure to vote could mean the country that you love will look very different after November 3rd. Your life, this democracy depends upon your vote. Show up.
Quinn: I love it. Fred, where can our listeners follow you online?
Fred Guttenberg: They can follow me on Twitter or Facebook. I have my personal pages. I have my public page. The podcast that I've started is actually going to stream on my Facebook page, the public page. So you can find me there. I have a website, fredguttenberg.com, where everything will be as well. And I hope people do follow. We're all in this together.
Quinn: I love it. Fred, I'm not sure exactly how to express thank you for something you shouldn't have to do, but we're all so thankful that you are taking the lead on and for everything, all the ways you're helping to change this country out of necessity and out of grief and purpose. So I urge you to keep kicking ass out there and anything we can do to help now or in the future, please always let us know.
Fred Guttenberg: You got it, guys. Listen, thank you and you take care. Vote.
Quinn: Thanks to our incredible guest today and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute or awesome workout or dishwashing or fucking dog walking late at night that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at importantnotimportant.com. It is all the news most vital to our survival as a species.
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Quinn: Just so weird.
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Brian: And you can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player and at our website, importantnotimportant.com.
Quinn: Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blane for our jamming music, to all of you for listening. And finally, most importantly, to our moms for making us. Have a great day.
Brian: Thanks guys.