By Elizabeth Mohr
Although the media today tends to portray young people as addicted to social media and detached from current events, the mass action taken by students across the United States in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida school shooting goes to show that this generation is far from apathetic.
In the words of 17-year old Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the shooting that killed 17 students and staff, “we are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks, because […] we are going to be the last mass shooting”. Throughout the country, students have come together to advocate for stricter gun regulation and a ban on assault-style rifles.
They have flooded social media with the slogan #NeverAgain, met with lawmakers to discuss gun regulation and organised a march in Washington on gun control scheduled for March 24th. The solidarity demonstrated by students alongside their intense push for stricter gun control raises the question of whether these young people will perhaps be the ones to finally bring about the change that is desperately needed in the USA.
In The Guardian, Gary Younge draws an interesting analogy between a protest against segregation led by black children in Birmingham, Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement and the current students’ movement, inferring that young people played a central role in the success of the Civil Rights movement and will hopefully do so in the gun control movement now.
Action taken by students has shown that this generation is not apathetic
With approximately 77% of Americans agreeing that Congress is not doing enough to prevent mass shootings, according to a CNN poll in February, there may be hope that the pressure exerted by students will ignite the spark needed to finally bring progress to the gun control debate. However, no matter how immense the efforts of students, the reality of the situation is that the decisions regarding gun regulation lie in the hands of lawmakers.
According to a study by Everytown for Gun Safety, the Parkland, Florida school shooting is the 290th school shooting since Sandy Hook in 2012. While mass shootings in places like Australia resulted in stricter gun legislation and a major decrease in gun-related deaths, lawmakers in the USA have yet to implement direly needed legislative change. There is widespread agreement that the recurring horror of such events must come to an end – so why do efforts to strengthen gun control continue to fail?
A central complication in the attempt to toughen gun control is the National Rifle Association (NRA). Claiming a grassroots membership of 5 million, the NRA is a powerful and politically active lobby, which is responsible for most of the contributions received by lawmakers from gun lobbyists, most of whom are Republican.
The influence of the NRA was exemplified in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting during which they strongly opposed the attempt to pass a bill that would involve universal background checks for commercial gun purchasers. Ultimately, the bill did not gain enough support in Congress and thus failed to be enacted.
Mass shootings in Australia led to stricter gun legislation and fewer deaths
If the deaths of 26 children in 2012 didn’t lead to change, why should there be hope now?
President Trump himself has close ties to the NRA, which is why he focuses on proposals like arming school teachers instead of imposing stricter gun laws. This idea would likely do little to counteract further school shootings, rather, it would only create an environment of heightened fear in schools.
At the same time, there seems to be an increase in bipartisan support for a reconsideration of gun laws. This is as a result of the growing youth movement and its pressure on lawmakers to resist the NRA and think of the lives at risk because of weak gun legislation.
On February 22nd, Oregon passed the first change in gun legislature since the school shooting: a bill that bans people who have been convicted of stalking, domestic violence or who are under restraining orders from buying or owning firearms and ammunition.
Florida’s Republican governor and supporter of the NRA, Rick Scott, has voiced his endorsement of the proposal to raise the legal age of gun buyers to 21. Despite these developments, it does not seem that the fight for gun control will be over any time soon.
Vermont’s Republican governor, Phil Scott, who initially promised to maintain the state’s weak gun laws, has now stated that, “If we can’t […] send our kids to school without being able to guarantee their safety, who are we?”. As debates on gun control continue, America will have the opportunity to demonstrate their answer to this question.
Although it is discouraging, it seems unlikely that the current Republican-controlled Congress would risk negatively impacting an industry with yearly revenues of $17 billion, even if increasing regulation would reduce the danger to America’s school children.
Photograph: Bob Dass via Flickr and Creative Commons.