As the executive director of Everytown for Gun Safety, he took on the National Rifle Association and helped make gun violence a winning issue.
Published Nov. 6, 2021 Updated Nov. 9, 2021
Mark Glaze, who was widely considered a founding figure in the modern gun-control movement, died on Oct. 31 in Scranton, Pa. He was 51.
Erika Soto Lamb, a friend and former colleague at the organization Everytown for Gun Safety, where Mr. Glaze was a former executive director, said his death was a suicide. Mr. Glaze had been in the Lackawanna County Prison since being arrested on a charge of driving under the influence in September.
Mr. Glaze was already a veteran political organizer in January 2011 when he joined Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an organization that was founded by Michael R. Bloomberg and more than a dozen other mayors. He worked for the organization part time, as a consultant on loan from the Raben Group, a public affairs firm.
Gun violence was at the time one of those issues that Washington insiders compared to the weather: something everyone talked about but no one did anything to change. The National Rifle Association controlled the topic, cajoling even moderate Democrats to oppose any effort to regulate firearms.
A decade later, gun violence is a winning issue for many state and local governments, the N.R.A. is in tatters and Congress is increasingly willing to stand up for gun safety — a drastic shift that many attribute to Mr. Glaze’s tireless organizing and brilliant strategizing.
“Mark unquestionably was one of the architects of the gun safety movement,” John Feinblatt, the president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a phone interview.
The changes happened over several years amid a series of high-profile mass shootings. It started a few days after Mr. Glaze joined the organization, when a gunman shot 19 people in a parking lot in Tucson, Ariz., killing six and injuring 13, including Representative Gabby Giffords.
Then, on Dec. 14, 2012, a gunman killed 26 people, mostly children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Newtown was a tragedy, but as Mr. Glaze immediately recognized, it was also an opportunity for action. So did the White House: President Barack Obama promised to put “everything I’ve got” into passing substantial gun-control legislation.
Working off a blueprint provided by Mr. Glaze, the White House called for a renewed ban on assault weapons, expanded background checks and other measures. But over the next few months, despite widespread public support, the bill was whittled down by senators from both parties who faced unrelenting pressure from the N.R.A.
By April, even a watered-down measure to improve background checks failed to clear the 60-vote threshold needed to beat a filibuster.
It was a stinging defeat for Mr. Obama and the gun control movement, but Mr. Glaze saw a silver lining. He understood what had to be done: He had to beat the N.R.A. at its own game. Rather than focus on Washington and wait for a mass shooting to spur interest in gun control, he would build from the grass roots and create a permanent pressure campaign on politicians at every level, from the White House to city halls.
“They for a generation have had this field to themselves,” he said of the N.R.A. in a 2013 interview with The Wall Street Journal. “There has really been nothing on the other side in terms of grass-roots strength, intensity on most days or support on Election Day.”
He resigned from the Raben Group to work full time for Mayors Against Illegal Guns. He hired dozens of staff members and more than doubled the number of mayors endorsing the organization. He rallied local activists and put pressure on purple- and red-state Democrats, who are often the most responsive to N.R.A. pressure. And he made himself a face of the movement, going on television talk shows and speaking to any reporter who would listen.
“Mark was somebody who could both sit with victims and survivors of gun violence while also operating at the political level and working with legislators to change the politics of the issue,” said Peter Ambler, the executive director of Giffords, an anti-gun-violence group created by Ms. Giffords.
Mr. Glaze, who was gay, took particular inspiration from the movement for same-sex marriage, which had for decades pushed for changes at the state and local level before taking on Congress and the Supreme Court.
“We felt keenly that there are some issues where Congress was the curtain-raiser, and some where it’s a finale,” Mr. Feinblatt said.
Mr. Glaze drew equally from the history of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which had rallied women activists to push for tougher drinking-and-driving laws. He sought allies among the increasing number of mothers who were leading a similar charge on guns.
In 2014, Mayors Against Illegal Guns merged with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America to form Everytown for Gun Safety. Both organizations had received significant financial support from Mr. Bloomberg.
Mr. Glaze stepped down from Everytown a few months later to open his own consulting firm, but he continued to dedicate much of his time to gun safety. He helped found the group Guns Down, and he consulted for Giffords and the organization Brady: United Against Gun Violence.
“He was very big on not letting things slide with elected officials or big businesses that profit off guns,” Alexis Confer, the executive director of March for Our Lives, an anti-gun violence group, said in a phone interview.
By the time of the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., in February 2018, in which a gunman killed 17 people and injured 17 others, the landscape had fundamentally shifted. The issue moved into the streets, with protests and boycotts of companies that dealt with the N.R.A., as well as civil lawsuits that left the gun lobby reeling.
Although Mr. Glaze never claimed credit, other activists said that shift would not have happened without him.
“Those successes would not have been possible without leaders like Mark who worked to correct the failure of the movement in the wake of the Newtown votes,” Igor Volsky, the executive director of Guns Down, said in a phone interview.
Mark Charles Glaze was born on Oct. 21, 1970, in Pueblo, Colo. His father, Charles Glaze, owned a gun store and belonged to the N.R.A.; his mother, Nancy Green, was a homemaker.
“If you had told me when I was growing up in the mountains of Colorado, shooting guns on the weekend with a dad who is an N.R.A. member and a gun dealer, that The Wall Street Journal would call me the face of the gun control movement, I’m not sure I would have believed you,” Mr. Glaze said in a video he made for Colorado College, his alma mater.
Mr. Glaze graduated from Colorado College in 1992 with a degree in political economy and received a law degree from the George Washington University in 1999. After law school, he worked for a number of campaign-finance reform organizations before joining the Raben Group.
He is survived by his son, Archer.
Mr. Glaze had long struggled with addiction and depression. His arrest came after he fled the scene of a car accident.
Gun control might have been his legacy and his passion, but Mr. Glaze said it was something he had just “stumbled into” amid his work on issues like teacher unions, gay rights and international human rights.
“The work I like to do,” he said in the Colorado College video, “involves big-issue campaigns where you’re trying to change public policy for the better, and those campaigns involve lots of moving parts.”
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