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Tech leaders push for gun control with SOPA protests as a model

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its time NYT ad
its time NYT ad

In the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, parts of the startup community hope that the tactics of anti-SOPA protests can shape the conversation on gun control. Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley, Randi Zuckerberg, Flipboard CEO Mike McCue, and many more have put their names to a New York Times advertisement calling for renewed gun control laws, alongside celebrities like Lady Gaga and John Cusack. Others, like, Alexis Ohanian of Reddit, have expressed support online. Venture capitalist Fred Wilson, whose company has invested in Twitter, Kickstarter, and other successful startups, compared the potential of pro-regulation effort "Demand a Plan" to that of the successful fight against copyright bill SOPA. "Like the PIPA/SOPA efforts last year, this effort is diverse, distributed, chaotic, and hopefully effective and powerful."

"This effort is diverse, distributed, chaotic, and hopefully effective and powerful."

Demand a Plan was launched by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino's group Mayors Against Illegal Guns in mid-2012; it's recently stepped up its plan to urge stricter laws. So far, the startup community's influence seems relatively minimal, though Wilson credits members of it with helping plan a viral campaign to support reform. What this does show, however, is another attempt to leverage the power of the tech industry as a body politic. Sites like Google, Wikipedia, and Reddit were instrumental in building awareness of SOPA, which was subsequently tabled by its author. Outside a growing lobby for internet interests, online companies have gone directly to the public, tapping into grassroots opposition and presenting warnings about the effects of SOPA, ACTA, or the ITU.

Notably, the most visible (and successful) campaigns have been against bills or treaties, not in favor of them. They've also been about things that could have a direct impact on the internet: the widespread SOPA Blackout, for example, hinted at what could happen if the law took effect. Demand a Plan, by contrast, is pushing for new legislation on a widely contested issue that doesn't affect web companies' bottom line. During the SOPA protests, Wilson expressed fears that startups are "outmanned and outgunned" by older industries in the political arena, and how effective they are at supporting this fairly ambitious project could highlight that — unlike many previous campaigns, the conversation about gun violence won't only affect people when they go online.