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In a Gun Control Vacuum, Social Enterprises Must Step Up

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What's the difference between a social entrepreneur and a politician? The entrepreneur has the guts to admit they're trying to make a profit.

Conservatives have plenty of successful capitalists ensuring Republican candidates and their issues get traction. Think the Koch brothers, think Rupert Murdoch, and when it comes to social entrepreneurship, think the NRA. The NRA is a "nonprofit organization" using entrepreneurial tactics to influence the debate on gun control.

After the Parkland massacre, the latest in what looks to be a mass shooting epidemic, gun control advocates are lamenting the lack of action from congress. Political journalists at major publications like the New York Times and Politico are noting that it's not just the NRA's PAC contributions making the difference.

In 2016, the NRA donated $54.4 million to political campaigns, but very little of that went to congress. The majority went to Donald Trump and other Republican contenders in the presidential race. The NRA didn't bribe any of Florida's senators or representatives, yet the Florida House refused to even debate a bill banning assault weapons after the massacre.

The NRA's marketing and Wayne LaPierre's public speaking are in part responsible for a lack of action on gun control. During his most recent speech post-Parkland , LaPierre framed this as an issue of socialism vs. freedom. "What [gun control advocates] want," he said, "are more restrictions on the law-abiding. Think about that -- their solution is to make you, all of you, less free." He also said, "Socialism is a movement that loves a smear." LaPierre is a figurehead who loves to exaggerate.

In terms of marketing, the NRA spends millions on campaign ads and voter-guide mailings, all hinging on the idea that any attempts at gun control from anyone running for office are attempts to infringe on our freedom, our second amendment right to bear arms. But we all know the NRA is the lobbying arm for gun manufacturers. This is capitalism masquerading as activism. It's no surprise that the NRA's solution to gun violence is that more people should own guns.

But I'm not saying the NRA and gun manufacturers and guns are the problem. I'm saying the problem is a lack of competitive social entrepreneurship from progressive enterprises when it comes to major issues like gun control.

What is a social enterprise? In large part, you'll see the big progressive ones operating internationally. Norwich University defines a social enterprise as a "group, company or organization that uses a traditional business model--i.e. the sale of goods or products--to help support its efforts to achieve notable social objectives." A social enterprise can be nonprofit or for-profit, it just has to use business strategies and capital to tackle social issues. And what could be more social than ending mass shootings and gun deaths in a country that sees more of them per year than anywhere else?

Basically what I'm suggesting is that we fight fire with fire. If the NRA is using entrepreneurial tactics to support an unreasonably broad interpretation of the Second Amendment -- there's no logic behind citizens being allowed to possess assault weapons, nor is there logic behind gun shows where background checks don't apply -- then an organization needs to use entrepreneurial tactics to promote a logical interpretation of gun rights.

There's one problem. Ohio University pinpoints the ability to identify business opportunities as one of the skills necessary for social entrepreneurship. Where is there a business opportunity in making sure guns don't get into the wrong hands?

The immediate answer would seem to be smart gun tech, which would make it so that only a gun's owner can fire a gun. But it looks like the Parkland perpetrator, Nikolas Cruz, bought at least some of his guns legally at Gun World of South Florida. And in the Vegas shooting, which was the worst mass shooting in US history, the shooter owned his guns legally and would have been able to operate them regardless of a smart safety mechanism. What's more, according to Kai Kloepfer, the founder of a gun safety tech business, "If a business was perceived as gun control you probably wouldn't be able to sell anything."

Perception is key. A social enterprise would need to look at how people perceive the gun control issue. After mass shootings, polls inevitably indicate people support some form of expanded gun control. Right now, 7 out of 10 people are in favor of tighter gun laws . There's a group of teenagers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campaigning for gun control. When people are thinking about safety in the context of a mass shooting, even someone like Donald Trump can bend . When they're thinking about having a lack of freedom, which is the way the NRA frames any sort of discussion on gun control, that's when people want to stand up for the their rights, regardless of who got shot last week.

Remember Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)? That organization isn't called "Mothers Against Alcohol" for a reason. So far, an innovative social enterprise hasn't been smart enough to use the right terminology. Young people and social media have power. If a social enterprise could join the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and bring some business acumen and longevity to the fight, we could see the makings of a real movement in a nation where marketing tends to make the difference.

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