Gun violence has reached an all-time high in our country, and the American people are fed up with the failure of our elected officials to do anything to try to stem the tide of gun deaths. In the three weeks since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., there has been a renewed push for gun reform. This comes a mere five months after our nation experienced the worst mass shooting in U.S. history in Las Vegas, which took the lives of 58 people and injured 527 others.
We are at a boiling point on the issue of gun reform. After an alarming spike in the frequency and severity of mass shootings and the slaughter of innocent clubgoers, concert attendees, people in church, and students, people are saying enough of this drama. This growing public outrage has its sights set on three targets: the National Rifle Association, corporations that do business with the NRA, and politicians who are bought and paid for by the NRA and its campaign donations.
The latest data shows that approximately 38,000 Americans die each year as a result of gun violence, a number that includes murders, accidental shootings, and suicides. This is an absolute public health crisis that must be taken seriously, and action is needed immediately to protect our communities from this epidemic. However, there are two main reasons why our elected officials have refused to act.
First, the Republican Party is bought and paid for by the NRA. In the 2016 election cycle, the gun lobby spent almost $53 million to influence our elections through direct campaign contributions to Republican candidates and dark money spending on independent expenditures in support of the NRA's preferred candidates. This significant financial influence has bought a direct line to these members of Congress. Politicians, even moderate Republicans, fear taking action because they fear the repercussions. The NRA will unleash fury and potentially withhold campaign checks, despite overwhelming public support for commonsense policies.
Second, the NRA is one of the most well-funded, well-organized political machines I have ever seen. Any time there is a remote possibility of gun reform, the NRA can immediately mobilize thousands or hundreds of thousands of its supporters to call, email, and visit their members of Congress or state legislatures. Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, gun violence prevention groups have invested in significant technology efforts to improve grassroots organizing on our side, and a lot of progress has been made.
With the latest mass shooting, there is now a new cohort of allies in the fight for gun reform -- corporate America. Since the Parkland shooting, we have seen dozens of national corporations, such as Delta, United Airlines, Avis, and Enterprise, cut formal ties with the NRA, ending corporate discounts to members of the gun lobby. In addition, we have seen businesses enact policy changes since Congress won't act. Dick's Sporting Goods CEO Edward Stack announced the chain would immediately stop selling assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, and that it would not sell guns to anyone under the age of 21, regardless of local laws. Walmart is following suit to raise the minimum buying age, which is a critical step because it is the largest arms dealer in the United States. These decisions are important because it's corporate America finally rejecting the NRA's agenda due to popular demand.
Public opinion, even among gun owners, is on our side. Ninety-seven percent of voters support expanding background checks to cover all gun sales; 67 percent support banning assault-style weapons; and 72 percent support banning high-capacity magazines.
Pride Fund to End Gun Violence was formed in the days following the Pulse nightclub shooting that claimed the lives of 49 people in Orlando with the goal of mobilizing the LGBTQ community and our allies in the fight for gun reform. In the 20 months since our establishment, Pride Fund has traveled throughout the country and has had significant impacts in the 2016 and 2017 elections to help ensure the right leaders are in office, the ones who will prioritize their constituents over the gun lobby. Two of our top policy priorities are banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, both of which make shootings much more lethal.
I am an Iraq war veteran. I served in the Army Reserve for 14 years, and I carried an assault rifle on the streets of Baghdad. I am firmly convinced that weapons very similar to those I carried in combat, which are available for sale here in America, should be banned. That is why I especially praise Dick's Sporting Goods for its move to no longer sell them. Not every organization and not every business is willing to make such a bold move. Let me be crystal clear, assault weapons were designed for the specific purpose of killing human beings as quickly and as efficiently as possible and don't belong on our streets.
So what are the takeaways? When lawmakers won't act, it's up to private citizens and responsible businesses to do the right thing. We applaud Dick's Sporting Goods for its sensible steps to keep assault weapons off our streets and ensure that guns remain out of the hands of those who shouldn't have them. We need to keep educating the public by conveying the truth about the NRA, the facts behind gun violence, and the complicity of NRA-backed Republicans. We can shift the tide by electing new leaders who support commonsense gun reform and show the country that gun violence prevention is a winning strategy, and it is what the overwhelming majority of Americans support.
It's not enough anymore to hope the NRA will see the light on sensible gun reforms; we know it never will. Its hunkered-down approach to Parkland has insulted the teen survivors and victims of the shooting, disrespected the lives of those killed, and angered our national community. It has reignited the flames of the gun violence prevention movement and renewed the vigor with which we fight. We all have a responsibility to stand up to gun violence and take a side. Either you stand with the gun lobby or you stand with the safety of our communities. You can't do both.
To get involved, volunteer, or donate to help enact real gun reform, visit our website at www.pridefund.org.
JASON LINDSAY is founder and executive director of Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, a political action committee that supports state and federal candidates who will act on sensible gun policy reforms and champion LGBTQ equality. Lindsay is a seasoned political operative with 14 years of experience working in politics, government, and campaigns. He also served for 14 years in the U.S. Army Reserve and was deployed to Iraq in 2003.