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Sainati: Gun reform must go beyond NRA, Second Amendment

Leo Sainati, Assistant Opinion Editor

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In the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that resulted in thedeath of 17 people, many corporations such as Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Hertz and Enterprise have moved away from their support for the National Rifle Association. Whether through ending special NRA member discounts or simply cutting all ties, these orga nizations have an impact through their backlash.

After the Parkland shooting, the hashtag #BoycottNRA was used over 10,000 times on Twitter in a single four-hour period. Indeed, the NRA has been largely involved in the political discussion in recent weeks, often framed as the voice of gun rights in the United States. Most notable was NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch sitting in on a debate between Florida politicians, their constituents and survivors of the Parkland shooting Feb. 21. But though it is easy to focus America’s gun problem onto the NRA, the issue is much bigger and more complicated, moving beyond the NRA’s political and financial influence.

The NRA is undoubtedly a large, powerful and wealthy organization dedicated to advancing the agenda of gun owners. The group received more than $124 million in political donations in 2016 and spent more than $54 million to help elect Trump and other Republicans. Yet, gun culture is so entrenched in the U.S. that attacking the NRA merely skims the surface of the problem. No other country in the world has as many guns or guns per person than the United States. A report from the think tank Council on Foreign Relations found that the United States had by far the highest amount of firearms per 100 people: 88.8, with the next closest being Norway and Canada with 31.3 and 30.8, respectively.

The NRA’s injection of money into politics stalls political action on gun control, but even beyond that, the country’s culture idolizing guns and violence thrives nonetheless. In 1970, historian and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Hofstadter argued in “American Heritage” magazine that “the United States is the only modern industrial urban nation that persists in maintaining a gun culture,” but yet is the most passive in implementing gun control. Unfortunately, this argument continues to ring true today, almost 50 years later.

The discussion on guns needs to consider the cultural factors that perpetuate their existence and must move beyond a mindless defense of the Second Amendment. Too often, arguments in favor of gun control are met with baseless accusations that people want to seize all guns. This is almost never the case. Banning all guns would be a logistical and safety nightmare, and would admittedly violate the Second Amendment. Yet sensible gun reform can stray away from this approach, instead focusing on eliminating military-grade weapons, or accessories such as bump stocks that make semi-automatic weapons fully automatic by increasing the rate of fire. Rarely do gun reform advocates propose a gun ban, yet this is where the discussion seems to stray.

The debate about guns is much more complex than simply being pro- or anti-gun. We need to raise questions about how to gradually implement gun reform in the context of the systems that have fostered this problem. Attributing our gun problem to the Second Amendment has some validity, but fails to account for how our country has grown as a gun-owning population. Likewise, criticizing the NRA is important, but doing so without examining its supporters, donors and other enablers fall short of being truly effective.

The U.S. needs change surrounding guns, but the conversation surrounding guns needs to evolve as well. A holistic look at who we are as a nation, through gun culture, political lobbying and historical roots is the best way to tackle the enormous problem with which we are faced.

Leo Sainati is a SESP freshman. He can be contacted at If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.