Parkland Changed Everything — Except for Congress
“Will this time be different?”
That is the question that my organization is often confronted with following a horrible mass shooting like the one we saw in Florida on Valentine’s Day. Will this be the one that pushes the American people to change? Will this be the tipping point?
It has only been a month, but I feel that the answer is yes. Yes, Parkland has changed the nation forever. Some places will see that change occur faster than others, but make no mistake — the cultural ground has shifted.
I’ve never witnessed any reaction to a mass shooting like the one I have seen in the weeks since Parkland. Almost immediately, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School began shaming their lawmakers for inaction, rejecting their sympathies, and challenging them to change. They also rightly focused their anger on the elephant in the room. The National Rifle Association (NRA).
For decades, the NRA has been the driving force in maintaining the status quo in regards to gun violence. They are the group that kept politicians from improving America’s dangerously weak gun laws. They pushed narratives to pivot away from taking meaningful action on firearms. Whether it is video games, mental health, or school safety, the NRA always finds something other than guns to blame. But this time these stale efforts mostly fizzled — or were met with great backlash. The students called “BS” — and the nation followed.
Since the Sandy Hook tragedy, when Congress failed to move sensible gun legislation forward, the gun violence prevention movement has only gained strength. Average Americans educated themselves and organized around the issue. Now we are seeing the movement win battles across the country. The students from Stoneman Douglas galvanized an effort that was well underway and directed the nation’s attention to it. Because of these efforts, gun violence prevention legislation is moving in dozens of states. Florida is often referred to as “the gunshine state.” Their state government has huge Republican majorities in both chambers of the legislature. It is a state that pioneered NRA pet projects like “stand your ground.” The fact that Florida Republicans rejected the NRA by passing a comprehensive gun bill is significant. If it can happen in Florida, it can happen anywhere.
Unfortunately, the last ones to recognize that the world has changed will be the Republican majority in Congress.
We have already seen elected officials on Capitol Hill begin to move on from Parkland. They’ve copied and pasted their “thoughts and prayers” from the previous mass shootings. A few have shown the willingness to accept the most modest and trivial changes to our weak gun laws. It is clear that Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are once again turning a deaf ear to the cries of the nation. They are doing all they can to avoid this debate.
They are stuck in a pre-Sandy Hook mindset. Gun violence prevention is no longer a political third rail, it is a winning issue. The recent results in the Virginia elections proved that. In the NRA’s backyard, statewide candidates supported by the NRA were crushed for the second straight election cycle. This trend appears to be growing.
The students from Parkland are leading a revolution. Their message is loud, direct, and in your face. The people are listening, the gun violence prevention movement is following, and even corporate America is recognizing it. It is a movement, not a moment. And with all social movements, the last people to get the message are those who have the power to vote for change. The ones who are currently in Washington have failed to listen, it is time to replace them with people who will.
Josh Horwitz is the Executive Director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence