Four months after Las Vegas experienced the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, the nation’s elected leaders seemed to be on track to take the same action they’ve taken after every major gun violence incident in the past 20 years: Do nothing.
But this time, after 17 people died at the hands of a teenage shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, something feels different. Students have walked out of school. Teachers have confronted Members of Congress. Parents have excoriated the President of the United States. For once, it feels like the NRA and the gun lobby might finally be held accountable.
But will this last? That may ultimately depend on whether Congress can finally break this cycle of inaction.
Why wasn’t Las Vegas enough?
Last October 1, 58 people were killed at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival near Mandalay Bay. Nearly 500 others were injured. Even today, Las Vegas doesn’t feel the same.
And yet, despite President Donald Trump’s visit to Las Vegas to thank first responders and despite the many messages of condolence and solidarity from across the nation and around the world, nothing happened. No laws changed, and all the same weapons of war that the gunman used to unleash all this violence remain legal.
Why’s that? Ultimately, it comes down to this: The NRA and the gun lobby have historically been far more effective at “playing the game”.
How even the simplest of changes became “too controversial”
In the days following the 1 October Shooting, several Republicans in Congress voiced support for restricting access to the bump stock devices that the assailant used to have his semi-automatic assault weapons essentially function as fully automatic weapons. These bump stocks played a key role in his mission to maximize the casualty count that night.
Initially, the NRA expressed openness to some sort of restrictions on bump stocks. However, all was not what it seemed. The NRA never actually endorsed any bump stock regulation, not even any of the bills that Republican Members of Congress had signed onto. Instead, the NRA and their steadfast allies in the White House made it crystal clear last year that they wouldn’t accept any limits on gun sales, magazine capacity, or even accessories that make already lethal weapons even more dangerous.
Even after another mass shooting occurred later that month at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Congress could not agree on a bump stock ban or a similarly modest bipartisan bill to encourage municipalities to report more data to the national background checks system.
And then, there was Parkland
As has been the case for the past two decades, media attention faded shortly after the Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs Shootings. Even as other mass shootings continued to take people’s lives, the NRA’s squashing of momentum for any kind of gun violence prevention legislation succeeded in scaring many politicians away from these modest gun regulations. And while most Republicans in Congress have particularly been guilty of this, it’s not as if Democrats have been entirely immune. Just after this latest massacre in Parkland, Florida, Congressional Candidate Conor Lamb (D-Pennsylvania) was quick to distance himself from the renewed movement for gun violence prevention.
But this time, after this latest tragedy, something feels different. I think I can even pinpoint that difference: The outrage. Students are walking out. Teachers are speaking out. And increasingly, it looks like parents are finally running out of patience.
Two weeks later, the outrage remains. Despite Trump’s attempt to deflect by proposing guns in classrooms and more attacks on immigrants, the students’ message on gun violence is somehow breaking through. Not only are the national media still paying attention to this issue, but the voters are largely siding with the students. According to a recent Quinnipiac national poll, 97% of Americans want universal background checks and 67% want a new assault weapons ban. Days later, a CNN national poll showed similar numbers that suggest most Americans trust the student activists more than Trump and the NRA.
But will it last?
That’s the big question here. Can these outraged students and their enraged adult allies do what countless pundits have deemed impossible? After over two decades of inaction, will the nation finally see some real movement on gun violence prevention?
These next few days and weeks will be critical. That’s why we’ll be flying to Washington, D.C. later this month to see for ourselves the “March for Our Lives”, speak with the advocates who are now on the front lines of this latest American gun fight, and assessing where things truly stand.
Some of this nation’s greatest changes have resulted from its worst tragedies. Perhaps this time, we might finally be approaching a tipping point on gun violence. When we can’t even keep our own kids safe at school, we have a serious problem about it. Apparently, what we needed was for the kids themselves to explain this for us to finally reach this moment.
Cover photo by Lorie Shaull, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Wikimedia.