One year ago, I was taking in all the sights and sounds of the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. At the time, I was hoping it would encourage more “open, thorough, and honest conversation” on gun violence prevention.
One year later, here’s where things stand on the laws, the movement, and the conversation that’s already tipped one election and may yet influence another.
A year ago this week, we witnessed the launch of a movement.
Even during the national march itself, organizers were stressing the need to continue taking action long afterward:
“I could feel the energy as soon as I arrived at the March for Our Lives site. I noticed the students and educators who traveled to the Mall from Maryland, Virginia, Florida, South Carolina, and even Nevada (more on that later) to participate in some ‘small-d democracy’. The mood shifted at times from mourning those lost to celebrating how far this new movement has already come, and from defiance of the gun lobby’s flippant dismissal of their movement to vigilance in continuing the work after the march concludes.”
Nearly four months later, national march organizers came to Southern Nevada to encourage folks to keep marching to the ballot box and beyond. After “calling BS” on then Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s (R) refusal to enforce the voter-approved 2016 background checks initiative, gun violence survivor-turned-activist David Hogg declared, “It’s time for us to fight for what’s right by getting out and voting.”
That sentiment was echoed last November by another nationally renowned activist, Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts, when she visited Las Vegas for Nevada Democrats’ final “get out the vote” rally: “I keep telling my children, especially my 18-year-old who’s come of age under a Trump presidency, that this is not normal, this is dangerous, and the way to course-correct is to show up at the polls.” It worked, as young voters, voters of color, and other progressive-minded voters demanding more aggressive action on gun violence turned out in big numbers to elect Democrats who were promising to pursue such action.
So what’s happened since the election?
So what’s happened since the election? Here in Nevada, Governor Steve Sisolak (D) and Democratic legislators have followed through on one key promise in passing a new background checks law that’s set to kick in next January. As I asked on these pages last month, “When policymakers have the chance to change policy and save people’s lives, shall they proceed? The Governor and most legislators are primed to answer this question in the affirmative, and the answer involves one of the simplest and most feasible options available to save people’s lives.”
So far, it looks like the Legislature is not done just yet. State Senator Julia Ratti’s (D-Sparks) SB 120 “red flag” bill received a deadline exemption last week, so we may yet get another new gun safety law to allow for extreme risk protection orders. In addition Assembly Member Sandra Jauregui (D-Henderson) has introduced AB 291 to ban bump stocks and allow municipal governments to regulate guns beyond the current scope of state law, Senator Yvanna Cancela (D-Las Vegas) and several other Senate Democrats have introduced their own bump stock ban with SB 261, and Senators Melanie Schieble (D-Las Vegas) and Nicole Cannizzaro (D-Las Vegas) have introduced SB 271 to enhance penalties for violent crimes involving guns.
Then at the federal level, Reps. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas), Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas), and Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas) all cosponsored and voted for HR 8 to expand background checks on gun sales nationwide, then voted for HR 1112 to tighten the federal background check process (as in, “close the Charleston Loophole”). Though Senate Republican leaders have thus far refused to allow votes on either bill in their chamber, a bipartisan backed federal “red flag” bill will be heard in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow.
Once upon a time, a critical mass of Democratic politicians tended to avoid matters of “gun control” and attempt to maintain good relationships with the NRA and the gun lobby. The 2012 Aurora (Colorado) and Newtown Shootings began to change this calculus, and the subsequent mass shooting attacks, including our own 1 October Las Vegas Strip Shooting, led to growing frustration over the status quo. That frustration led to a renewed gun violence prevention movement, and that movement coalesced in the March for Our Lives that was clearly visible to Congress and the White House.
Speaking of the White House, we now have multiple Democrats openly running on platforms that include stronger gun violence prevention legislation. At Pour Coffeehouse near Henderson yesterday, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) invoked last May’s Santa Fe School Shooting outside Houston as he declared, “If we’re willing to have the courage of our convictions, we must make sure these weapons [of war] are no longer sold in our communities, and no longer seen at our churches and schools and throughout our lives.” And during their respective visits here, U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) both commended Moms Demand Action volunteers for their work while also vowing to go further in banning military-grade assault weapons and accessories designed to boost guns’ firepower.
So one year later, we can see how the initial March for Our Lives has already resulted in change in terms of election results and new legislation advancing. Out of the painful tragedy of the Parkland Shooting, the gun violence prevention movement has emerged stronger than ever. These students took to the streets to demand change, and in the days ahead these students may yet deliver more changes that result in saving more lives in the years to come.
Postscript: In the past 72 hours, news has broken of the father of a slain Newtown victim and two Parkland survivors dying from apparent suicides. If you or someone you know is in need, organizations like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), and the Trevor Project are here to help. If you need immediate aid, call the Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or message them here.