Hip-Hop Needs To Take A Stand On Gun Violence. We’ll Go First.

Since the February 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL that took the lives of 17 people, the discourse around gun violence, and how to lessen it, is as engaged as it’s ever been. The fact that the story has stayed in the news cycle for 2 weeks is no small feat. Just 4 months prior, a gunman slaughtered 58 people and injured more than 800 others in Las Vegas—the largest such massacre in U.S. history—but the furor around that tragedy subsided just weeks later.

For those that have lived through decades of these types of mass shootings, it is hard not to become numb to such atrocities. Typically, there is an uproar about gun control, met with counter arguments about 2nd amendment rights and/or empty words about reform, and then nothing happens until the next shooting occurs. Even when these types of mass killings spilled into high schools and elementary schools, no substantive changes were made. However, something is different this time around. Rather than just letting their parents and lawmakers be their advocates, students, themselves, are making a stand for change, and it’s working.

Last week, families from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School participated in a nationally-televised town hall with Senator Marco Rubio about the tragic events, and they took it to him. In a particularly charged exchange, Cameron Kasky, a junior at the school, asked Rubio whether he would agree to stop taking NRA money for his campaign. When Rubio tried to evade the question, Kasky pressed him and raised the ante, offering to help Rubio replace the money he would lose. Even then, the senator was unwilling to commit to forgoing money from the powerful gun lobbying organization.

Rubio’s reluctance was consistent with the behavior of many in Congress, with 276 members receiving money from the NRA, underscoring the fundamental reason why true gun reform has not occurred. It isn’t because the majority of U.S. citizens are against certain added restrictions. 97% of the population supports universal background checks, 83% want a mandatory waiting period for firearm purchases, and 67% favor bans on assault rifles. Instead, because of the money being spent by a collective of gun manufacturers, we are now in state where our nation’s representatives are not representing the will of the many, but that of the distinct few—an extremely wealthy few.

The students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas recognized this, and they are not the only ones. All over the country, students are staging protests to voice their desire to be able to go to school in environments where they do not fear for their lives due to gun violence, adopting the slogan “Enough Is Enough.” This has led to a proposed National School Walkout on March 14, where millions of students are expected to walk out of schools and stage a variety of protests, and the March For Our Lives, which will converge on Washington, D.C. on March 24. Amazingly, their courage is proving to be contagious. Since Congress seems unwilling to act—just last night, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan demurred on any meaningful reform, saying “we shouldn’t be banning guns for law-abiding citizens”—others are taking their own steps to make real change to gun laws. Last week, Florida governor, Rick Scott, proposed that the state raise its minimum age to purchase guns from 18 to 21, and other states may follow suit.

This morning, an even more surprising move was made, not by a public official, but by a company that benefits directly from the sale of guns. Dick’s Sporting Goods, one of the nation’s biggest gun retailers, released a statement that it was discontinuing the sale of assault rifles immediately, and that it was raising its minimum age for gun purchase to 21. Over the years, other companies have made similar moves in response to gun tragedies, but those changes typically proved to be temporary, and often were done without the company injecting itself into the discourse about gun control. As the New York Times reports, however, Dick’s is directly tying its actions to the current debate about gun reform. “When we saw what happened in Parkland, we were so disturbed and upset,” said CEO Edward Stack to the Times. “We love these kids and their rallying cry, ‘enough is enough.’ It got to us.” Stack also said this time the changes would be permanent.

The move is inspiring in that it shows this nation is a union of and for the people and, if the government it has put in office for now is unwilling to act on behalf of the people it is supposed to represent, the people, themselves, will take action. Ironically, it is that very spirit with which the founding fathers enacted the 2nd amendment. Our right to bear arms was about allowing the people in states form militias to protect themselves from a tyrannical federal government, not encouraging them to raise guns against each other.

While Dick’s action is a huge step, both symbolically and substantively, it is not enough. If gun violence is to be truly reduced—not just in schools, but in homes, neighborhoods and everywhere else—we, the people, also have to look at the culture of violence in which we live. Gun violence is pervasive on TV, in film, in kids toys, in play and in music…especially Hip-Hop.

Despite the momentum that has been gained and retained with the Enough Is Enough movement, Hip-Hop–a genre that has long been the voice of the people–has remained eerily silent. Perhaps that is because, with its constant gratuitous references to and glorification of guns, Hip-Hop doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on in this debate. While we enjoy Gansta Rap, as well as films and TV shows with gun violence, when we step back and look at the proportion to which guns are part of media vs. how much they are part of our real lives, something is off.

All this has caused us to take a hard look at the genre we love and see what role we, the Hip-Hop Nation, might be playing in this country where Americans are 10x more likely to be killed by guns than people in other developed nations are. So, we’ve decided that, we’re going to take a stand, and we’re challenging others–web sites, radio stations, streaming services, TV networks–to join us. Starting on Monday March 5, for one week, we will refrain from posting any content that advocates or contains any gun violence. This will not include songs that have some gun references in the context of telling stories with a greater purpose than advocating violence.

If gun play is not truly out of control in Hip-Hop, this should not be too difficult. If it leads to us withholding a great deal of content we would otherwise publish, then it underscores just how prevalent gun violence is even in the art form we love most. During this time, we will keep track of the number of songs (not the names) we would have posted as a percentage of what our overall posts for the week would have been had those songs been included. At the end of the week, we’ll release those results and detail our learnings.

We are doing this to raise our own awareness of the content we put out and the recognition of the impact it has. We hope it inspires more thought and dialogue as we, as a country, try to work together to stop the violence.