Moonshot Thinking: Why Cutting Gun Deaths Between Police and the Public Requires a 10X Approach

April 26, 2023
“People can set their minds to...seemingly impossible ideas, and then through science and technology, bring them to reality. And that then sets other people on fire that other things that look impossible might be accomplishable.” - Astro Teller, Computer Scientist

In the 6 months since we formally announced it, our moonshot goal to cut gun-related deaths between police and the public by 50% in 10 years has generated a lot of discussion and debate. Many have expressed support for the goal, seeing it as a much-needed effort to reduce the number of deaths caused by police shootings, while also spotlighting how members of public safety put themselves in harm’s way every day. Others have been more skeptical, questioning whether the goal is achievable and whether it is the best approach to the problem.

But when it comes to saving lives, we have no other choice but to set an audacious goal. And we know from history, that “moonshot thinking” works.

What is moonshot thinking?

The video above is inspiring because it reminds us of the incredible advancements that humans have brought to fruition during our short history on the planet. From the Orville brothers’ first flights, to the moon landing, and to more modern impacts like the first iPhone and now self-driving cars, what many of these advancements have in common is that they didn’t happen in short increments, with gradual changes over time. They represented bold, start-from-zero thinking that redefined humanity.

How do these innovations come about? The “moonshot blueprint,” a framework used by the company X, which bills itself as a “moonshot factory,” and by Singularity University, a leading futurism think tank, establishes three main ingredients: 1) A huge problem that affects millions of people; 2) A breakthrough technology; and 3) A radical solution, one that sidesteps traditional thinking and pushes solutions into new undiscovered territory.

Moonshot thinking doesn’t ask, “How can I make this 10 percent better?” but rather “How can I make this 10 times better?” Once you start generating ideas without the constraints of linear progress, things that may seem impossible start to feel within reach, even if the path will certainly be winding.

Why this moonshot? Why now?

In looking at the moonshot framework, it’s obvious that the issue of gun-related deaths between police and the public represents a big, important problem to solve. For years, gun deaths between police and the public have risen, with 62 officer and 1,096 civilian deaths recorded in 2022, according to leading sources*. And every one of these losses ripples out to devastating effect among family and community members, and to the nation as a whole; millions of people are impacted by these tragedies.

And this unfortunate trajectory of losses tells us that whatever we’ve been doing hasn’t worked and won’t be solved in increments. We’re overdue for a new way of approaching the issue—a radical solution.

Axon’s Founder and CEO Rick Smith is no stranger to bold ideas. As the founder and CEO of a technology company dedicated to improving public safety and protecting life for the past 30 years, he believed Axon had a responsibility to help lead the way. Not only does Axon have some of the world’s best technologists on its team, but it has also been at the forefront of public dialogue about trust-building between police and communities. Serving as the convener for this goal is not only aligned to the company’s mission, but it’s simply the right thing to do at this precarious moment.

So in early 2021, Smith challenged his team with the moonshot goal to drastically reduce fatal officer-involved shootings. He gave them freedom to explore new ideas. He pushed them to increase their rate of innovation. And he gave them the framework to do it.

“We are a species of moonshots.” - Richard DeVaul, Rapid Prototyping Specialist

Early momentum

Axon formally and publicly launched “our moonshot” in October of 2022. Since that time, the company has been working steadily to convene partners and plans to address the goal. Progress to date includes:

Holding more than a dozen roundtable events and discussions bringing together members of public safety, communities and research groups to outline the challenges, opportunities and actions that will help reach our goal.

Gaining the support of partners like the Fraternal Order of Police, the African-American Mayors Association, and the American Society of Evidence-Based Policing. They’ve each pledged to work with together and with Axon to define and refine specific initiatives that will start reversing the trends in gun-related deaths between police and the public.

Hosting an inaugural research forum, with attendees from educational and industry institutions who will help surface data and insights to inform moonshot strategies.

Recruiting new talent to join us in this mission. A famous story from the original moon landing tells of President Kennedy’s visit to the NASA space center, where he asked a janitor a simple question: “What do you do here?” The janitor replied, “Well, Mr. President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.” No matter the role, Axon is finding individuals committed to this ambitious goal.

Launching a new breakthrough technology, the TASER 10 energy weapon. The first result of Rick Smith’s rallying cry within the walls of Axon, the TASER 10 has the potential to massively impact police-civilian interactions by giving officers a new tool to help de-escalate dangerous situations. While technology alone is not a panacea, the TASER 10 is a giant leap forward.

What’s ahead

The work has begun, but it is far from over, and the clock is ticking.

In the short term, we will formalize additional partnerships, releasing the first data report that looks more closely at underlying factors of gun-related deaths between police and the public, and working on specific research initiatives that are in development now. We’ll provide updates here, so consider subscribing if you’d like to be notified of new content.

Beyond that, we continue to explore other technologies and initiatives that will get us closer to reaching our moonshot goal. We’ve already learned a lot in this first stage and are eager for concrete steps to continue taking shape. With 10X, moonshot thinking, we’re embracing the challenges and opportunities ahead and look forward to working together with committed partners.

Stay Informed and Get Involved

*Sources: Washington Post Police Shootings Database and Fraternal Order of Police Monthly Update: Police Officers Shot and Killed