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Elon Musk Chooses Sides on Gun Control Debate

The billionaire and CEO of Tesla has become very political in recent months.
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Elon Musk is the most influential CEO in the world. 

And he knows it. 

The mogul with 95 million followers on Twitter is determined to use his platform to weigh in on public debates, whatever they may be. 

In recent months, the CEO of the electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla  (TSLA)  has thus imposed his voice on subjects such as the Russian war in Ukraine, free speech with the eventful acquisition-in-progress of the social network Twitter  (TWTR)  for $44 billion, cancel culture and its corollary wokeism. 

The serial entrepreneur – he is also CEO of SpaceX and is involved in Neuralink and The Boring Company – also criticized the solutions put forward by President Joe Biden to fight inflation at its highest in 40 years. He gradually slipped into the role of opponent of Biden by declaring that the Democratic president was almost nothing without the teleprompter. 

Since then, Musk has also announced that he will vote Republican after having voted Democrat in the past. 

'Tight Background Checks'

For the past few days, he has been trying to draw attention to the population decline in rich countries such as Japan, Italy and South Korea. The mogul also said that neither ex-president Donald Trump nor Joe Biden were good candidates for the presidential election of 2024. 

He also promised a big surprise for the midterm elections in November 2022.

Musk now assumes his role as an atypical CEO having broken with the tradition which wants that the bosses of companies do not meddle in politics and to focus to manufacture their products and improve their services.

He has again proven his iconoclastic and unconventional side by taking a stand in the debate on gun control, the day after a shooting massacre that killed 19 children and two adults at an elementary school in south Texas. 

“I strongly believe that the right to bear arms is an important safeguard against potential tyranny of government. Historically, maintaining their power over the people is why those in power did not allow public ownership of guns,” Musk told CNBC on May 25.

The billionaire then told the outlet that he supports “tight background checks” for all gun sales and limiting sales of assault weapons to people in special circumstances, like gun range owners, or people who live in a “high risk location, like gang warfare.”

A few hours later, Musk reiterated his position with a very clear tweet:

"Assault rifles should at minimum require a special permit, where the recipient is extremely well vetted imo,"  he said on Twitter, responding to a question from a user.

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In truth, anti-gun activists seek severe restrictions on, and oppose in concept, any individual civilian RIGHT to own ANY firearm, even though it is an inalienable right specifically recognized in the U.S," conservative activist Tom Fitton commented "Constitution under the Second Amendment. This is the debate."

"How about a middle ground, where the licensing standard for semi-auto rifles is a driver’s license, age 21 and no rap sheet?" Musk responded. "Basically, what is a reasonable way to make it harder for people with homicidal impulses to obtain body count maximizing weapons?"

Such a position on such a sensitive subject is rare among CEOs, who often prefer to content themselves with terse press releases. Tesla moved its headquarters from Fremont, California to Austin, Texas in December. SpaceX, Musk's rocket company, also has a launch facility in Boca Chica, in the Lone Star State.

The world's richest man also lives in Texas.

Musk, however, does not say whether he will put pressure on the Republican governor of Texas to act on the gun issue. Democratic lawmakers in Congress have called on their peers to pass comprehensive gun-reform measures since the Texas shooting.

Blaming the Media

Republican Governor Greg Abbott is due to attend the 2022 NRA (National Rifle Association) annual meetings and exhibits in Houston, Texas, on Friday. Abbott worked hard to lure Musk to Texas.

The meeting will be headlined by former president Donald Trump, according to the  NRA.

"Starting at 2 p.m. local time, Trump will be joined in a celebration of Second Amendment rights by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Sen. John Cornyn, Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Dan Crenshaw, North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson, and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem," the organization said in a press release issued on May 12.

No change has been made as of time of writing.

In exchanges with CNBC, however, Musk attacks the media, which he accuses of giving too much coverage to mass shootings.

"Regarding recent events, the shooters are obviously doing this to generate the most amount of attention possible. Why is the media doing exactly what the mass murderers want?” Musk asked.

The Texas tragedy has reignited the gun control debate. But it is important to underline that it is not realistic to imagine a reform because this debate has become very politically divisive.

Gun owners - and there are an estimated 80 million of them - see their firearms as a way to defend their own freedoms and property. Banning or restricting guns is therefore seen as a violation of their rights.

In 2012 a gunman killed 20 children and six adults in Sandy Hook primary school. Afterwards there was broader support for gun control, but gun reform never materialized.