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Posted in: thought leadership

31st May 2022

What is freedom without safe schools and communities?

By Halla Tómasdóttir, CEO of The B Team

This essay featured in the May 2022 edition of The B Team's monthly newsletter. Subscribe to receive leadership insights, advocacy opportunities and conversations between business and civil society leaders exploring a better way of doing business for people and planet.

Nineteen children and two teachers are dead in Uvalde, Texas, massacred by a teenager too young to buy beer yet old enough to purchase an assault rifle. Guns are now the leading cause of death among American children. Not car crashes. Guns.

I’m not someone who leads with anger, frustration or despair. But like so many of you, these feelings consume me now—chief among them, a deep sadness for the grieving parents, families and community of Uvalde.

I confess I’m also surprised. As a Nordic living and working in America, I don't pretend to understand every nuance of American political and cultural dynamics. It simply feels as if the only sane response is to treat gun violence and its underlying causes as the national emergency that it is.

The United States swiftly responded to the 9/11 attacks, implementing new travel measures to help secure our safety. Why not swift action now, after Uvalde and the other 540 school shooting incidents since 2012?

Time and again, polls show that “the overwhelming majority of Americans support some restrictions of firearms,” with around 90 percent supportive of background checks for firearm sales. Yet certain elected officials continue to reject common sense gun regulation, and the gun lobby persists in putting profit ahead of the lives of innocent schoolchildren and selfless teachers.

We hear a lot of talk about freedom. What is freedom without safe schools and communities?

Let’s call it as we see it: a democratic system expressing itself undemocratically. And at its heart is a failure of leadership—a failure of elected representatives to reflect the will of the people, in service to the public good.

As CEO to a global collective of business and civil society leaders, I hesitated to write about the need for gun reform in America. But this isn’t about politics to me, really and truly. This is about common sense, leadership and common values.

In business as in government, common sense measures shouldn't necessitate bravery or courage. But on gun violence (and climate action, for that matter), I get that some bravery may be required. So let’s be brave on behalf of the health, safety and future of every child.

The duty of elected leaders is to the wellbeing of the constituents and communities they serve. Taking care of employees is the first responsibility of a business leader. After yet another unthinkable, avoidable tragedy, we must lead with our humanity, and with urgency. Amid rising threats and despair, we have to place humanity at the heart of policymaking and business purpose.

And everything, every time, returns to values—the mobilizing power of universal values. What do we stand for? What future are we building for the next generation, who will care for this world and carry it forward? What present and future do they seek? Will our kids be proud of us?

Imagine common sense emerging as a governing philosophy. Humanity at the heart of leadership. A future built upon common values.

It’s on each and every one of us to make it so.