The Parkland, Fla. massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the more recent shooting at Central Michigan University have renewed the cycle of heated political debate and media discussion surrounding gun control in the United States. For members of the National Rifle Association and others, the salience of the issue of safety in and around school grounds provides an avenue to push for an increase in armed security. However, we at The Michigan Daily believe that the wave of gun violence that plagues our nation directly results from the alarming leniency of gun laws within the United States and the culture that surrounds the NRA and the political power the lobbying group wields. Despite the devastating trends of gun violence, we are optimistic that light can be brought to the issue and that meaningful reform is possible.

Gun violence is happening right in front of us — to our friends and families across the nation — at a rate that is unmatched within the developed world. Now, it is in the hands of private citizens to change the culture of guns for our country. As we have seen time and time again, Congress alone cannot be trusted to change gun laws in any significant way. Should the national and political culture surrounding guns shift, Congress will be more likely to enact gun reform laws that will hold the possibility of tangible change. These cultural shift begins with us.

The struggle to change culture and policy has gained new life since the Parkland shooting. Currently, Parkland student activism has led to speeches, candlelight vigils and preparation drills  about their experiences and the grieving process. Their conversation has drawn the attention of major national news sources like  CNN, NBC’s “Meet the Press” and The New York Times. Using these platforms, the students are calling into question where our country’s priorities lie: Do we care more about protecting our guns or protecting the safety of our young people?  Partially because of their efforts, major retailers have united to distance themselves from the NRA and institute higher age requirements for purchasing guns. For instance, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart, Kroger Co. and L.L.Bean have all responded to the students’ activism by publicly stating they will no longer sell firearms or ammunition to people under the age of 21.

At this point, as the Stoneman Douglas students have already so powerfully shown, we need to rely on ourselves and our ability to take action, not just the government, to institute moral and tangible change. However, if gun culture is changed, we are hopeful that government at both the state and federal level will institute the much needed reform that a significant number of people, including many of the Parkland survivors, support.

Some might find it challenging, if not impossible, to reverse the culture of firearms that is so heavily embraced in this country. However, there is precedence for widespread cultural shifts in the United States; the demise of smoking’s popularity in the late 20th century shows that large-scale culture changes can occur.

We at The Daily also find the extreme influence of the NRA in the political sphere another extensive barrier to preventing school shootings and gun violence. According to The New York Times, senatorial heavyweights such as Marco Rubio, Rob Portman and Tom Cotton have received more than $3.3 million, $3 million and $1.9 million dollars from the NRA since they began their political careers. Even without the NRA’s monetary influence, which extends to many more elected officials, the group’s impact is still highly potent due to their ability to mobilize their members to vote for the candidates they endorse. If you are as concerned about the influence the NRA has in our electoral politics as we are, we encourage you to vote and to make sure your peers do as well. The surest way to change gun policy is to remove the elected officials from office who are so intertwined with the NRA.

The importance of changing gun laws cannot be overstated. Gun violence has become normalized and even desensitized because of its prevalence, especially in a generation that has grown up seeing the frequency of these shootings. This frequency and subsequent media cycles and political debate has become all too familiar.  But for us as college students, inaction could be a matter of life or death. We have an obligation to ourselves, our communities and our nation to change gun culture as well as to replace the elected officials enabling the NRA to dictate public policy and hold America hostage to its views. We, at The Daily, encourage our readers to take part in the ongoing student activism by contacting their elected officials to demand reform and to vote in the 2018 midterms and beyond.

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