Courtesy of The New York Times

The Parkland shooting inspired many acts of student protest across the nation and at Ithaca.

March 18, 2018

Cornell Students to Protest NRA by Flooding Organization’s Facebook Comment Section

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Amid national and local uproar over gun violence, Justin Langfan ’19 is leading an effort to tackle the issue from a different approach: using mass social action to “revolutionize our politics.”

Langfan is organizing a group of people to utilize social media to hold the NRA accountable as part of a movement he calls Shaping The Future. On Tuesday, everyone participating in the movement will comment the following question on the NRA’s most recent Facebook post:

“The NRA has said that ‘people who are dangerous should not have access to firearms.’ If the NRA believes this statement, why is it against implementing background checks for the 22% of gun purchases that don’t require them? #JoinUsandPostThis”

“The biggest thing is that your voice really does matter,” Langfan told The Sun. “The NRA only gets like 200-500 comments per post, so really it just takes a 100 bold people to say that I’m going to join you in doing this.”

Langfan said that 140 people have signed up to participate as of Saturday, but admitted that he can’t guarantee that every single one of them will actually post on Tuesday.

It is unclear how many of those who signed up are Cornellians, but Langfan said he raised awareness for his event primarily on-campus, including campaigning around dining halls.

Everyone who signed on will receive three texts on Tuesday: the first will be a greeting from Shaping the Future; the second will contain the question itself, so that it is easy to copy and paste; the third will be a link to the Facebook post that everyone should comment on, which will be determined the day of.

“This has never even really happened before, so how do you even give the word to describe it?” he said. “Right now, we are calling it an event, but it’s really not an event. You can do it whenever you want, it takes five seconds.”

In the future, Langfan hopes to expand beyond the issue of gun violence and target a range of prominent topics and figures, ranging from politicians to special interest groups, and hopes that Tuesday’s event will be the “spark” to start the movement.

“Given the climate in our country, the gun topic seemed like a really good one to start with,” Langfan said.

Just last week, the FBI and Ithaca Police seized an assortment of weapons, including an AR-15 rifle and a homemade bomb, from a former student’s apartment, raising “questions about how a former Cornell student was able tohoard weapons and combat materials in his Collegetown apartment without drawing attention,” The Sun previously reported.

“With over 90% of Americans agreeing there should be universal background checks, it is time for the NRA to hear the American people,” reads one of the statements on Shaping the Future’s website.

Langfan argued that part of the reason that organizations like the NRA are so powerful is because they promote extremist viewpoints. He said that the NRA wouldn’t be as powerful if normal people had an outlet to express their opinions.

“Right now, our politics seemed to be trapped in extremes,” he said. “Things are so tense, and there’s no way for people with like my kind of mindset to communicate, which is that we don’t live in the extremes, we live kind of in the middle and we just want to ask sensible questions.”

Langfan was optimistic about the power of social media to implement change, calling it the “the 21st century political battlefield.” “Sixty-seven percent of Americans get their news from social media,” he said.

Though Langfan admitted that the NRA may not directly respond to or change due to these Facebook comments, he said his larger goal is to change the way people engage with political issues.

“I think, initially, they won’t care what the people say,” he said. “But, by doing this mass action, you’re going to affect fellow Americans and by affecting fellow Americans, you’re going to then in turn affect those organizations.”

The school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February created backlash against the NRA that has made local impact: Ithaca High School held a walkout on Wednesday and Cornell University Democrats organized a simultaneous walkout at Cornell in solidarity.

In addition, local activists will be holding a March for our Lives Rally on March 24th to advocate for gun control legislation which will be accompanied by C.U. Democrats and the Roosevelt Institute organizing a march from Cornell to the Commons.

Langfan said that he has been in contact both of these organizations to help raise awareness for his event, but said that he ultimately wants Shaping the Future to be its own separate platform.

“When you have these other organizations with these own histories, that kind of takes away from that purpose,” he said.