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Spencer Rendahl: Cutting Ties

Up until recently, I had only known the National Rifle Association as the sporting turned Second Amendment lobbying group that has fought against proposed gun restrictions, including ones for the AR-15, the assault-style rifle used in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting that left seventeen students and teachers dead. I had no idea that the NRA also acted much like the American Automobile Association, offering their members a potpourri of discounts on services. A look at the “Member Benefits” page of the NRA’s website shows a wide range of discount programs, including a wine club, prescription drugs, cancer insurance, identity theft protection, and travel.

These affiliations have now made headlines with the #NeveraAgain movement that arose in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting. Survivors and other activists are demanding gun sales restrictions and targeting both politicians and companies affiliated with the NRA.

On a related front, dozens of colleges and universities across the country – including my alma mater Dartmouth College – have announced they will not penalize students in the admissions process if disciplined for peaceful protest about Parkland.

Lee Coffin, Dartmouth’s vice provost and dean of admissions told the Washington Post that he couldn’t remember another time when prospective students were calling the admissions office worried about consequences from actions like walking out of class. His office tweeted out “Speak your truth.”

As scrutiny has increased over gun regulation and school safety, nearly two dozen corporations have cut ties with the NRA, including United Airlines and Delta, Metlife, Hertz, Avis, Enterprise, North American Van Lines, and Best Western. Dick’s Sporting Goods has announced that it will no longer sell assault-style rifles and will raise the minimum age for buying any rifles.

The Parkland shooter, at age nineteen, reportedly bought a shotgun not used in the assault at a Dick’s store. “Thoughts and prayers aren’t enough,” a Dick’s press release stated.

Walmart and LLBean have added similar sales restrictions. And in response to customer protest, REI has ended its relationship with supplier Vista Outdoor, which owns CamelBak, Giro, and Bell, because the company supports the NRA and also has ties to gun manufacturing.

The NRA has responded by calling the exodus “a shameful display of political and civic cowardice.”

Consumer activism may not be new, but up until recently it hasn’t been a significant part of the gun debate.

But with at least a dozen school shootings in 2018 already, the pressure is significant, and it’s building.