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How to jump-start a movement: changing U.S. gun culture

December 20th, 2012
05:28 PM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

Want to change American gun culture? Ask Candace Lightner.

Thirty years ago, she did more than almost anyone else to change another seemingly entrenched aspect of American culture: drunk driving.

When her 13-year-old daughter was struck and killed by a drunk driver, there was a cavalier attitude towards driving under the influence.

“Unlike gun violence, which has always been abhorred, drunk driving was joked about, talked about, accepted,” Lightner told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview on Thursday. “I called it the only socially acceptable form of homicide in this country.”

Lightner founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) – her first office was in her daughter’s bedroom – and became a fierce advocate for change.

“My first thought was to protect my children and anyone else from seeing this happen,” she said. “My second thought was to punish the man who was responsible for the crime. The third thought actually was to change the system that I felt allowed this man to continue to drink and drive.”

Lightner said she, from the very beginning, had a broad strategy for her campaign. She worked on every level of American society, from neighborhood groups to the president, Ronald Reagan, encouraging them to form task forces and change laws.

For the advocates of change in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Lightner distilled four critical elements from her fight: passion, practicality, public support, and an appeal to personal accountability.

Activists already have the passion and public support, she said, though they must seize the momentum of support before it inevitably fades. The practicality, she said, “is hard to understand in the beginning.”

As she successfully lobbied her governor at the time, Jerry Brown, and President Reagan to organize drunk driving task forces, she encouraged them to bring all stake holders to the table.

The alcohol industry was vehemently opposed to raising the drinking age to twenty one, she said, but “if you can get them to agree to most of it, you will get [the initiatives] passed, and you can move forward. But you need everybody involved.”

The NRA, Lightner admits, is a more formidable foe than the alcohol industry, which had no inherent stake in allowing people to drink and drive.

But allowing such easy access to guns is “like leaving your [car] keys around the house when you have an alcoholic in the home,” she said.

As for President Obama’s promise to “pull together real reforms right now,” Lightner was skeptical.

“I honestly believe that we need to do much more,” she said. “I’ve heard wonderful suggestions on this show and other shows over the past few days – they’re going to go into the [ether]. They’re not going to go anywhere, unless you get all of these people together and you actually make a plan to adopt these solutions.”

CNN's Ken Olshansky produced this story for television.

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soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Steve Howell

    I I wonder if drunk driving has really changed. I know MADD is out there but so are the drunks.>The 13,470 alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities in 2006 were almost the same as compared to 13,451 alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities reported in 1996. Ten years of progress.
    One look at these numbers shows we still have a huge problem>

    December 20, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Reply
  2. wrm

    Activists already have the passion and public support, she said, though they must seize the momentum of support before it inevitably fades. The practicality, she said, “is hard to understand in the beginning.”

    Nothing says good idea like passing as much legislation as you can based on emotions. Bush V4.0

    December 21, 2012 at 9:47 am | Reply
  3. Julie Diane

    "Mothers against guns in the house" is what we need. Gun isn't the point. No guns in the house is what mothers desire.

    December 21, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Reply
    • Julie Diane

      gun "control" isn't the point.

      December 21, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Reply
    • Margharet

      But if you keep importing the very dangerous korean Gangnam Style, then is better to have one gun, then no gun. Stop importing korean Gangnam, first.

      December 31, 2012 at 9:48 am | Reply
  4. The Iron Ghost

    You have to change the culture, not the availability of weapons, if someone is going to do something they'll find guns, or use some other method. They don't care if they are breaking the law, acquiring banned magazines or rifle types. You have to get the point across that guns are not glamorous, they are used for self defense against an immediate threat of life or severe injury, or to hunt for food that is to be consumed, and not wasted. We don't wave them around to make a point, we don't talk about targeting certain groups of individuals to use them on.

    December 21, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Reply
  5. genevieveakins

    When there is the will for a right cause nature always paves a way. Only passion and hot "practical" pressure can get the lawmakers to budge. This is pretty serious...wait...just wait until another lunatic beats security measures to one of their children's schools. It is like Pharoah letting Israel go after the plague hit his home!

    December 22, 2012 at 5:31 am | Reply
  6. letmeeatcake

    concerned mothers can start by ACTUALLY BEING MOMS for a change. instead of only worrying about what someone might do to your child, give some thought to what your child might do to others as a result of how you raised them. hey america! stop thinking your public outrage over the random acts of lunatics makes up for your poor parenting.

    December 31, 2012 at 8:55 am | Reply
  7. realoldguy

    Gun fanciers feel so inferior and put-upon that they need assault rifles to "equalize" with normal people. What a bunch of losers!

    December 31, 2012 at 10:57 am | Reply
  8. Larae Rhodarmer

    Psy likened the Gangnam District to Beverly Hills, California, and said in an interview that he intended in a twisted sense of humour by claiming himself to be "Gangnam Style" when everything about the song, dance, looks, and the music video is far from being such a high class.^,

    Our new internet page

    May 6, 2013 at 11:25 pm | Reply

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