Opinion: Let’s Have No Guns At Tech Conferences #NoGunsInTech

I’ve been watching in horror at yet another mass shooting at a school in the United States.

The story of an 18 year old shooting 19 kids and 2 adults at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas should be enough for any country to decide that gun control should be a top priority.

But it is not. Because it is the United States.

The United States is The Bad Place

Between January 1st 2022 and May 25th 2022 there have been 213 mass shootings in the United States (source Gun Violence Archive stats and Gun Violence Archive map).

213.

Screenshot of Gun Violence Archive from May 26th 2022
Gun Violence Archive screenshot May 26th 2022

For context, pretty much nothing like this happens anywhere else in the world.

ANYWHERE.

Even when a mass shooting occurs, which is highly unusual, it is often years between significant events.

Take a look at Europe, a continent with (give or take) double the population of the United States, and many sovereign states with many different laws.

The Wikipedia entry has some of the mass shootings in Europe, but we’re going back over 20 and 30 years for some of them.

And many of those mass shootings were responsible for gun reform in those countries and led to huge reductions in gun violence.

So what has this got to do with tech conferences?

The tech industry largely centres around the United States. The biggest tech companies are based in San Francisco and Seattle, whether we like to tell ourselves that we are a distributed industry, we are still drawn to these two cities from around the world and a few other locations for conferences on a regular basis.

There are many tech conferences that occur in the United States, and these attract international speakers and attendees.

It has only occurred to me in the last day or so that:

There are guns at tech conferences in the United States.

Let’s say it again:

THERE ARE GUNS AT TECH CONFERENCES IN THE UNITED STATES.

Do I have proof? I have several people who have said they have seen guns at tech conferences in my twitter DMs.

I have a black British friend who has described an incident at a US tech conference where they pointed out someone openly carrying a gun to security. My friend was then confronted by security curious as to who he was and why he had made the report.

Understand? As a black non-US man, reporting someone for carrying a weapon (in hindsight it was not illegal) was considered suspicious.

Why? Because in every other country, it is very suspicious for someone to openly carry a gun anywhere, let alone a tech conference.

In fact, being straight, white and male means that I almost certainly do not see any real issues going to tech conferences in the US.

I am just accepted as part of the club.

But we need to surface these stories, and identify the values we need to hold as a worldwide tech community.

I and others with that privilege need to speak for those who have to live with the stress of not having that privilege. Even though they have been saying it for a long time.

There is nowhere else in the world that I can think of where a tech conference could be held that guns would be openly carried without some sort of licence or permit. Even then… it would be very strange.

The only reason that it is tolerated in the United States is because that is where the big tech companies are, the startup money, and lots of the people, which means that we all have to go to them.

And, no, your constitution is no defence. Your politics is your own. We find your politics both reprehensible and bizarre on guns.

And politics gets to be more important than safety when you start carrying guns at tech conferences.

Proposal: #NoGunsInTech in all tech conference Codes of Conduct

As an international visitor to the United States, I have rarely felt worried about gun violence.

But I am a straight, white man.

We need to make it safe for everyone who comes to tech conferences, and the tech world should not submit to US politics and just accept their inability to fix gun laws, when pretty much the rest of the world has managed to do just that.

So I am asking all tech events held in the US to adopt an addition to their Code of Conduct that bans all guns from the event.

I suggest it goes something like this:

“We recognise that technology is a global community, and as such we want to make all attendees feel safe. Irrespective of political belief, all guns are banned from this event to ensure that all attendees whether from the United States or from abroad can be assured that there are #NoGunsInTech.”

If someone has better wording (I just made this up) then great.

And before someone asks: YES this should be enforced by the conference organiser.

And attendees should require it too.

I would love it if the big tech conferences adopted this.

Maybe we could have a “#NoRifleInvent” or a “#GoogleNoPIstOls” trending.

Maybe we could have “#ServerlessDays” being “#GunlessDays” too.

Tech will not save us

As with many major issues in the world, such has Climate Change and Covid, the tech world often thinks that “tech” is the solution.

In fact, the biggest culprit when it comes to inaction often appears to be large parts of the US tech community (note: not all but definitely large parts). The expectation is that there is a way to make something clever out of software, hardware, or new tech that will fix the problem and make it go away.

I’ve seen “there’s this gun with GPS so that it will only fire in certain locations” and “what about facial recognition or AI?”.

I’m sorry to tell you (again — because I’ve written about this before):

More tech will not save us.

This is a politics problem.

This is a people problem.

This is a people in power playing politics problem, and it has been for decades.

Gun violence in the United States is not going to get solved by tech, and anybody that thinks it is, makes it worse, so just don’t do that.

And, yes, I am a British person, speaking to the United States tech community, but, to be extremely blunt, the United States tech community is not leading on this issue. Somebody needs to say something. Maybe nobody will notice this blog post, maybe someone will. But at least I’m proposing something that has a hope of starting useful conversations and starting to ask some important questions.

And hopefully, this will start to make everyone in tech in the US realise that people arriving for tech conferences do not have to accept your politics. We can push back, and challenge your politics, and tell you to do better.

Move your conferences

If you can’t do the above, because it is too political, maybe then you should move your conferences.

I like Vancouver.

I’ve never been to Mexico, or the Carribean, but I’m sure they have great venues for conferences too.

And Europe is full of great people and fantastic venues.

Hey why not Africa too?

Maybe it’s time the Americans started to realise that the rest of the world has better gun control and that they would do well to go and learn what it looks like to be in a country where guns just aren’t a problem.

But… let’s start with #NoGunsInTech for US tech conferences.

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Paul Johnston

ServerlessDays CoFounder (Jeff), ex AWS Serverless Snr DA, experienced CTO/Interim, Startups, Entrepreneur, Techie, Geek and Christian