Living in Pakistan, Abdul Aziz and Farah Naz dreamed of sending their eldest daughter to high school in America, in hopes she would matriculate at a U.S. college. In 2018, Sabika Sheikh was accepted as an exchange student at Santa Fe High School. In her first semester, she was killed in a school shooting.
On what would have been the week of their daughter’s 18th birthday, the Sheikhs sued the gunman’s parents, working with the litigation team at Everytown for Gun Safety, a non-profit that was less than five years old. When the case crossed John Feinblatt’s desk, his heart sank.
“Shit. Texas Supreme Court,” he said ominously at Electric Lady Studios Thursday night. The odds of a win were dismal. He took a big inhale. “But obviously, I greenlighted it.”
Today, Everytown is the largest gun reform nonprofit in the U.S. Feinblatt, its president, has been on the front lines of the gun reform movement for over 20 years. What he’s learned from difficult legal battles like the Sheikh’s is that minor victories at the state level add up. And right now, he is laser-focused on Tennessee.
After the Covenant School shooting in Nashville, Democratic Governor Bill Lee called for a special session on August 21 to revisit a proposal designed to keep firearms out of the hands of high-risk individuals. A previous version of this bill gained bipartisan traction, but the Republican supermajority turned it down. Feinblatt believes a Tennessee victory would be a crucial harbinger of progress for the gun control movement.
The Covenant School shooting is also what inspired the gathering, organized by model and activist Karen Elson, who lives up the road from the Covenant School in Nashville.
“No one is immune to the tragedy of gun violence,” Elson said to the audience of tastemakers, including designer Rachel Antonoff, producer Mark Ronson, and actor Christopher Abbott. “It’s in malls, concerts, movie theaters, nightclubs, restaurants, offices, and now it’s in the most sacred of places — our schools, our places of worship. And it’s just unconscionable that our children have to do active shooter drills, that teachers have to consider arming themselves to protect their students.”
In 2020, gun violence surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death among children and teens in the United States, Elson noted. By 2021, child gun deaths were up 50 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. Middle school and high school students, ages 12 to 17, are, overwhelmingly, the most at-risk.
“Americans don’t want to live like this,” Feinblatt said in the wide-ranging conversation with Rolling Stone CEO Gus Wenner. “Gun control used to be called ‘the third rail of American politics,’ but the political calculus in this country has changed. The NRA’s political footprint has shrunk significantly.”
Feinblatt pointed out that 2016, the National Rifle Association was Trump’s largest outside donor. By 2020, the organization’s spending decreased by half; it lost every political race it backed. In contrast, Everytown — originally meant to be a counterforce to the NRA — won 73 percent of the races it backed in 2020. Progress continued. In 2023, Everytown helped three states pass bans on assault weapons, bringing the nationwide total to 10 states. “We’ll go state by state,” Feinblatt said, “Then suddenly, it’ll become clear that this is what the American public wants, and Congress will adopt it.”
In the meantime, Feinblatt suggested, the White House could do more to mitigate the proliferation of assault weapons routinely at the center of horrific crime scenes. “Should the Department of Defense contract with gun manufacturers who sell weapons to civilians? That’s a fair question. We’re going to press them about that.”
Feinblatt compared the rise of mass shootings with the opioid epidemic, which saw major legal victories. “Why aren’t we using the same tactics with gun safety?” Feinblatt posed. “Well, a sad fact is that the NRA convinced Congress to give the gun industry blanket civil immunity. Think where the Sacklers would be if we couldn’t have sued them? This has been an extraordinary obstacle.”
But it’s not insurmountable. Everytown’s litigation team successfully circumvented federal gun protection by digging into legal liability claims. That’s how they won Sheikh’s case — even in the Texas Supreme Court — nine to zero. The family ultimately sued the ammunition dealer for selling a gun to an underage person, arguing their criminal negligence trumped any kind of civil immunity defense.
Singer-songwriter Remi Wolf closed the evening with a brief yet buoyant set that reminded us all that we were, after all, in a recording studio. Sitting beside her guitarist, in baggy cutoff jeans and her frizzy hair poking out from under her baseball cap, Wolf’s playful demeanor instantly lifted the room.
But it was her breathtaking rendition of Frank Ocean’s “Pink + White” — a song about grieving a loved one who died in a hurricane — that best captured the gravitas of the evening and the long road ahead of the gun reform movement. “Gave you tools just to stay alive,” Wolf sang. “And make it out when the sun is ruined.”