The mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, earlier this month sparked something in the survivors and high school students across the country. These students have recognized that years of government inaction on gun control have led to a situation where they are afraid to even attend school, and they’re prepared to take Washington to task over it.
Already, students have organized walkouts and marches, visited their members of Congress and taken a huge role in driving the media narrative since the shooting, preventing politicians and the National Rifle Association (NRA) from lapsing back into the cycle of professed outrage and inaction.
Many are skeptical that a group of minors can have a political impact, as they can’t vote and don’t have money for political campaign contributions. However, gun control advocates, especially pessimistic and browbeaten ones like myself, should realize that these protests are the best thing to happen to the gun control movement in years.
These kids were there. They recorded it on their smart phones and spoke out about it online that same day. They may not be able to vote now, but they will soon. More importantly, they’ve proven themselves capable of political organization and action far beyond merely casting a ballot.
The generation that the Parkland survivors belong to have the potential to break through the stagnant gun debate gridlock by offering fresh solutions to a problem that older voters almost never budge on. They also provide a human face for the tragedy and pain caused by older generations’ inability to reckon with an epidemic of gun violence. They’ve come through trauma and loss with a single, clear demand: Amend gun laws to keep us safe. This new generation of gun control activists has the potential to radically shift the gun control debate over the course of their lifetimes simply by staying involved.
The more unhinged wing of the Republican Party is already trying to portray the students as being led and paid by some radical leftist organization rather than being a group of traumatized survivors expressing their outrage at being victims of the firearm industry’s collateral damage.
Our insane gun rights regime and Americans’ tendency to shoot each other may both be symptoms of a wider moral sickness. But the public health crisis of gunshots is also a direct effect of policies pursued over decades. Never let anyone get away with trying to depoliticize the gun debate. Stoneman Douglas High School was shot up as a result of bad laws passed by craven politicians, the death and trauma seen there a direct result of policy.
To the doubters of youth activism, look at the pressure students have exerted since the Parkland shooting. The gun control debate remains in the news nightly.
More and more corporate sponsors are dropping their support of the NRA. Marco Rubio announced he’d consider banning sales of larger-sized gun magazines. President Trump has talked up age limits and background checks for some guns and officially directed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to consider banning bump stocks. Our gun problem is not fixed, but that’s the fastest progress we’ve seen in a long time.
The real question is whether this fire can be sustained. If the youth gun control movement survives past its first few setbacks and staves off apathy, it has the potential to nudge our national discourse over guns little by little until a new generation of activists has fundamentally reshaped gun laws and the debate over them in America.