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This weekend, thousands of people will gather in DC and at over 800 events across the world for the March For Our Lives, a protest organized by the student survivors of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, to demand action to end gun violence. The march comes after students across the country walked out of their classrooms last week, many for seventeen minutes in tribute to the seventeen lives lost in Parkland. A similar walkout is planned for April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine shooting.
After so many mass shootings, there’s a temptation to be cynical. With little legislative movement, the violence continues; the past six months have seen three of the deadliest mass shootings in modern American history. Just as brutal are the deaths that often fail to grab our attention—according to data from the CDC, an average of 96 Americans are killed by guns each day, a number that climbs by the year.
But this time, the impassioned protests of high school activists and survivors have ignited action and revealed a nationwide frustration with the relentless sequence of massacres. “People right now are just fed up with the lack of change,” says Andrew Patrick, the media director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV).
The students of Parkland are also attempting to connect with activists and victims of gun violence not given the same amount of attention. Acknowledging the discrepancy between their suddenly high-profile platform and that afforded to young black activists who have been at the forefront of this issue, they met over pizza with their peers in Chicago and attempted to bridge their experience with the high rates of gun homicides endemic within communities of color.
A recent CNN poll found that 70 percent of Americans support stricter gun control laws, the highest level since 1993. After public pressure following the Parkland shooting, corporations in industries ranging from aviation to banking have started to cut ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA). The movement has even led to tangible legislative success; the Republican-controlled Florida state legislature recently passed a bill that added restrictions on gun purchases—the first of its kind in the state in over 20 years.
The cracks are beginning to show and advocates of “gun sense” policies (activists say that there’s nothing controlling about protecting public safety and so “gun control” is a misnomer) are beginning to win. Here are five ways you can join the fight:
1. Contact your elected officials—at every level.
A raft of proposals are being considered at the city, state, and federal levels. Here are just a few to write and call lawmakers about:
• Stop Concealed Carry Reciprocity. Last December, on the fifth anniversary of Sandy Hook, the House passed an NRA-backed bill for concealed carry reciprocity, which would allow individuals who have a concealed carry permit in one state to carry a gun in another, even when current laws differ. The bill, now being considered by the Senate, would essentially create a national gun license and loosen the ability of states to regulate concealed carry.
• Support “gun sense” bills. Legislation with bipartisan support up for consideration include raising the age limit for purchasing AR-15s and banning bump stocks. Dianne Feinstein has also introduced a bill to ban assault weapons altogether. There is also a push to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (Fix NICS), though Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer demands this be accompanied with a more in-depth, universal background check system. Read more about the bills and their supporters here.
• Support GVRO/ERPO policies. In the 12 months after the 2012 Newtown shooting, states passed 70 laws easing restrictions on gun sales and owners, highlighting the role state legislatures have played in abetting gun proliferation. Advocates for gun safety are answering with their own ideas and right now many are promoting Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO) policies—also known as Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO)—to statehouses across the country. GVRO/ERPO policies allow family members and law enforcement officials to temporarily have access to guns removed for individuals who are at high risk of endangering themselves or others, with studies showing a significant influence in preventing gun deaths. The goal is to have ERPO-style policies implemented at the state level in all 50 states; so far, five have passed laws.
• Check out States United to Prevent Gun Violence, a national network of grassroots affiliates across the country, to find out more about the specific laws in your state. Each affiliate serves as a regional hub for information, partnership, and advocacy. You can find and follow your local affiliate here.
• Fight preemption laws. After decades of lobbying by the NRA, more than 40 states now have preemption laws regarding firearms that strip the authority of municipalities to regulate the sale and use of guns. In some states such as Florida, extreme preemption laws threaten officials who enforce their own gun ordinances with personal $5,000 fines and removal from office, and a fine of up to $100,000 for the town itself. Urge your city council members and mayors to vocally oppose state preemption laws and to join coalitions such as the nonpartisan Campaign to Defend Local Solutions, which seeks to protect the rights of local authorities to create their own gun laws free from state interference.
• Stop schools from arming teachers. Florida’s governor signed a measure allowing trained school workers to carry handguns, a proposition that is also gaining traction in the White House. In some areas, local school boards are starting to reject this pressure. Attend local school board meetings to make your disapproval heard.
2. Exercise consumer power.
The NRA and the dangerous agenda of gun deregulation it pushes is the principal threat to gun safety in America. Isolating this immensely powerful group through the commercial sector is a particularly potent tactic that is gaining traction right now. “Corporate America is usually quick to pick up on an issue, and their responses are a major sign that the cultural landscape is shifting,” says Patrick.
Amid a flurry of a customer complaints and threats of boycott, Delta Airlines, MetLife, Hertz, and the First National Bank of Omaha—which used to offer an “NRA Visa Card”—dropped discount programs and business partnerships with the NRA. Retail giants like Walmart and Dick’s have also recently toughened their restrictions on gun sales.
Campaigns are now encouraging customers to call, email, and tweet at Fedex and Amazon: the former has bucked the tide and resisted demands to cut its discount program for NRA members, while the latter continues to host NRATV, a channel that streams NRA propaganda 24/7.
You can find more information on the Fedex and Amazon campaigns here (about halfway down the page). And if you’re a customer of any of these other companies continuing their associations with the NRA, you can also tell them that you oppose their partnership.
Consumer power is also effective in negotiating the presence of guns at private establishments themselves. A few years ago, Target, Chili’s, Chipotle, and other chains requested customers stop bringing guns into their stores. While the power businesses have to prohibit open and concealed carry varies from state to state, reach out to those near you and encourage them to take public stances against guns on their premises.
3. Participate in rallies and petitions, get in the loop.
Mass demonstrations of popular support for gun reform help to end the normalization of gun violence. You can find information about the March For Our Lives in DC here and other events here. On April 20th, students, faculty, and staff will stage another walkout (you can find one near you here). Another method of action is through petitions: here’s one to remove the ban on federal gun violence research and another to stop “bad apple” gun dealers.
Gun safety organizations will be driving protests and proposals throughout the year, so it’s important to keep updated. Sign up for the newsletters of national groups such as the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and States United to Prevent Gun Violence.
4. Join and support grassroots organizations in disproportionately affected communities.
The Parkland high school activists are just one node in a larger movement to stop gun violence that traces back at least to the 1970s. Grassroots efforts have been leading the struggle, especially within communities which are disproportionately affected by gun violence. For instance, African-Americans are more than twice as likely to die from gun violence than any other racial group and black activists have been pushing for gun reform through anti-violence campaigns for decades, often without much in the way of resources or national attention. Here are a few organizations to follow and donate your money, time, and energy to:
• Dream Defenders is a black youth-led group that was founded in Florida after the killing of Trayvon Martin. With a racial justice mission, the collective has organized actions protesting gun violence around the state and led a 2013 sit-in in the Florida Capitol protesting the state’s Stand Your Ground laws in the context of George Zimmerman’s acquittal.
• LIVE FREE is a social justice campaign created by people of faith seeking to end mass incarceration and gun violence. They’ve organized campaigns with black and brown leadership in more than ten states, and also use a unique, community-oriented “ceasefire” strategy to deter chronic perpetrators who are responsible for the majority of gun homicides.
• Community Justice Reform Coalition is an anti-violence coalition that aims to prevent gun violence through policy advocacy and programs. The organization centers criminal justice reform in communities of color. Past gun safety initiatives have included community interventions, domestic violence programs, and public health approaches.
5. Make your vote count this November.
35 Senate seats, 6,066 state legislative seats, and all members of the House are up for election in 2018, meaning that one of the most effective ways to take action on gun violence prevention is through the polls. If you haven’t already, make sure to register to vote and research your district representatives. Here, it’s useful to follow the money: Drain The NRA has aggregated data on politicians who have received funding from the gun lobby, while NPR has compiled an extensive list of the voting records of representatives on key gun bills since 1993.
“People are viewing gun violence through a different prism since Parkland and it’s kind of been changing in the five years since Sandy Hook,” Patrick said. “The elected officials in power had their time to act and I think eventually we’ll see a lot of Americans vote on this come November.” With all the energy around this issue, we have a great opportunity to flip seats that are bought by the corporate gun lobby and replace them with representatives who will prioritize gun safety.