We Talked to the Lawmaker Behind San Francisco’s Branding of the NRA as a ‘Terrorist Organization.’ She’s Not Backing Down
San Francisco Supervisor Catherine Stefani created a stir this week, winning unanimous passage of a resolution to label the NRA a “domestic terrorist organization,” citing the gun lobby’s violent rhetoric and promotion of loose gun laws.
The NRA has blasted the measure as an “absurd” stunt and “an unprovoked assault on the First Amendment rights of millions of law abiding Americans.” The NRA insists that San Francisco’s government has “maligned more than 5 million members of the NRA” for exercising their constitutional rights, and that the “implications should be chilling to every American.”
Stefani, who joined the board of supervisors in 2018, is a former deputy district attorney for Contra Costa county in the East Bay, and a longtime gun-violence prevention activist. Rolling Stone spoke with her on Thursday and it’s clear she has no intention of apologizing, or backing down. In fact, she’s just getting started:
What was your aim with this resolution?
I’ve always said that words matter. And I really wanted to call the NRA out for what I think they have become, which is a domestic terrorist organization that continues to block reform and all reasonable gun-violence prevention legislation, and who continue to incite violence through their NRA TV programming [Editors note: NRATV recently shut down], and promote bad gun laws, and basically get in the way of common sense gun reform.
To play devil’s advocate: What’s the difference between “This is a group I disagree with politically” and “This is a group that deserves a ‘terrorist’ label”?
I’ve been working on gun violence prevention for a long time. And I’m very familiar with the NRA, its tactics, and how the NRA used to be — before they were really taken over in the late seventies, and what they’ve become: Which is really a mouthpiece for the gun manufacturers. After the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting, my staff and I were talking. I said, “They’re a domestic terrorist organization.” And we ended up looking up the definition of what that is, according to the Department of Justice. I’m looking at it and it’s: “the use of any explosive or firearm, or other weapon or dangerous device, with the intent to endanger directly or indirectly, the safety of one or more individuals, or to cause substantial damage to property.” I thought that is everything the NRA has been doing and continues to do. They should basically know by now that they are fueling the hate-fire in this country. And that their efforts to block reasonable gun reform and promote bad gun laws stir it up with the American people. They are truly wreaking havoc in the country — and people are dying because of it.
So it’s provocative rhetoric and promotion of gun usage that get them into support of terrorism? I want to understand, technically, with the definition you’re relying on, how you see the nexus between their activity and terrorism?
Here’s the nexus for me. So many people are getting numb to the level of gun violence in this country. We are having mass shooting after mass shooting after mass shooting. I wrote this resolution after the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting, where a little 6-year-old that I can’t stop thinking about was killed while jumping in a bouncy house for God’s sake. Since I introduced the resolution, we had 22 people killed in a Walmart, in El Paso, Texas. We had nine people killed in 32 seconds in Dayton, Ohio, by a man with a rifle and a hundred round drum magazine. Then we had Odessa, Texas — with a guy with another AK-type rifle killing seven people in 15 different crimes scenes.
So when I think about terror, and what it’s doing to the country — a loud sound goes off at a Hamilton play here in San Francisco, and people panic and run. A loud sound goes off in the mall people, people panic and run. This country is being terrorized by gun violence and the only organization that is really continuing to stand in the way of reform or even letting us study gun violence is the NRA. And you have to ask yourself why? Why won’t they even allow a universal background check bill to be voted on in the Senate. Why? The only thing I can come up with is the fact that profits mean more to them than the American people. They will tell you otherwise. But that is what their actions say they are doing.
Was it a difficult lift to get this through the Board of Supervisors?
It was not a difficult lift at all here in San Francisco. As we stay here: As San Francisco goes so goes California and the rest of the nation. The NRA describes what I’m doing as a reckless “assault.” What I say is that the NRA’s reckless assault on America is about to come to an end. They are more fringe and more toxic than ever and the American people have had enough.
This is a largely symbolic resolution. Are there any teeth to it? Is there a practical impact of what you’ve done?
The L.A. City Council passed something a while back effectively banning contractors from doing business with the NRA. I looked into that. I want to examine what contractors might have business dealings with the NRA, and once I find out if we have any contractors like that here in the city and county of San Francisco, I’ll then take next steps.
Your city bio says that you’re active with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Do you have an official role with them?
It’s a volunteer capacity. After the Sandy Hook shooting — I’m a mother — I joined right away, and I’ve been involved in that organization as a volunteer since then. I was a local group leader of the San Francisco chapter before I became supervisor. But this action that I’m taking on this resolution is separate and apart from them. It’s my own doing.
The issue of gun violence prevention for me is extremely important. We have to turn the tide in this country. Words matter and I want to be very clear that this is a step in the process of fighting the negative impact of the NRA. Yes the words are strong. But I believe that they necessarily apply.