When we learned about the 17 deaths of innocent students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., we were deeply disturbed. But sadly, massacres have become more of a norm than a rarity.

In 2017, nonprofit Gun Violence Archive estimated that about one mass shooting occurs per day in the United States. This is a disturbing yet undeniable trend. Two months into 2018, there have already been eight school shootings in the United States, with numerous fatalities.

Each time shootings occur, we ask: Why do these massacres keep happening?

It’s not that people haven’t been personally and emotionally affected by these events. They have been. It’s not that Americans haven’t been asking Congress and the president to take action on gun control. They are begging.

It’s that one organization dictates the actions — or lack thereof — of Washington: the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The NRA’s stance on gun rights is clear. NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre purported after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that the way to stop bad guys with guns is to give good guys guns. And behind the scenes, LaPierre and the NRA have contributed extensively to the congressional gridlock on gun control.

More than half of federal candidates in 2016 were backed financially by the NRA’s political action committees (PACs), receiving donations not only from these committees but also from NRA members themselves. That involves more than a simple vocal endorsement.

In fact, some politicians have been accepted such contributions for the length of their entire political careers. According to a 2018 opinion piece based on data from Center for Responsive Politics, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) received $7,740,521 from the NRA, mostly for his 2008 presidential run. That sum includes the money that the NRA and its affiliates gave directly to McCain, as well as money that the NRA spent in the campaign’s interests. The second-highest recipient of NRA donations was Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), coming in at $6,986,620.

The NRA isn’t donating $20 to fund a few campaign signs. It’s the backbone of a complex fundraising network which donates millions that can make or break campaigns; millions that can keep politicians in office. And if politicians want to remain in office, they have to play by the NRA’s rules.  

The NRA-funded Congress members don’t push for universal background checks, and they vote against proposals that seek to prevent people on government terrorist watch lists from purchasing guns. They don’t condemn the sale of AR-15s, the semi-automatic rifle used by the perpetrator of last Wednesday’s shooting.

The only thing these elected representatives seem to have no problem doing is accepting the NRA’s money.  

During the 2016 presidential election, the NRA spent more than $30 million on President Donald J. Trump’s campaign, more than it spent on Presidential races in 2008 and 2012.

Recently, however, those donations have come under scrutiny. The F.B.I. is investigating the involvement of a Russian central banker in a potential money laundering scheme. That banker, according to CNBC, may have channeled money through the NRA to the Trump campaign, circumventing a law that forbids donations from foreign nationals to U.S. campaigns.

Considering Trump’s close relationship with the NRA, it’s no surprise that just one year ago, he nullified a regulation instituted by former President Barack Obama aimed at preventing mentally ill individuals from purchasing guns. In a Feb. 15 speech after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, Trump had no problem emphasizing the importance of monitoring and reporting “mentally disturbed” people.

In his 5 minute and 27 second speech, he did not emphasize guns at all.

Unfortunately, mass shootings will likely continue to break families, stain communities and scar the U.S, and we will continue to ask: Why?  

Amid deep sorrow in this country, the answer has never been more clear.

The NRA has blocked gun control measures through its strategic manipulation of the president and members of Congress. It remained silent publicly after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. shooting and repeatedly ignores the realities of gun violence.  

The influence of this organization, while absurd, is incontrovertible. Until the NRA stops influencing members of Congress with massive sums of money, effective measures to stop mass shootings will not be taken in Washington.

Laurel Sutherland is a College senior from West Chester, Pa.