Direction of the Gun Control Movement: What’s Left – Emergence of Activism After Parkland

In the wake of the Parkland shooting, students across the nation have organized a united front demanding for gun control legislation. A Politico poll reported that eight in 10 Americans favor gun control measures including implementing mandated background checks, expanding screening for the mentally ill, subjecting private and gun show sales to background checks, and preventing sales to those convicted of violent misdemeanors, as well as those on federal no-fly or watch lists. 

As the 2018 midterm elections approach, legislators are experiencing an increase in political pressure from dissatisfied constituents. Additionally, Marist University reported on February 23 that 71 percent of Americans agree that the laws governing the sale of firearms need to be stricter in general. This figure is up significantly from 64 percent last October. Strong enthusiasm was shown for pro-gun safety candidates, as the poll also showed that 85 percent of registered voters say a candidate’s position on gun legislation will affect their vote. As a result, gun safety has become a major electoral issue in the 2018 midterm elections that could potentially give Democrats control of the House. According to the Cook Political Report, California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Virginia are home to 38 percent of all vulnerable Republican-held seats in play in the midterm elections. In Minnesota, nearly one-fifth of districts are vulnerable. It is important to note that Illinois, Virginia and Minnesota have some of the loosest gun control laws.

Following the Parkland shooting, Florida Governor Rick Scott along with other GOP lawmakers released proposals for the state’s most substantial gun restrictions in decades. Specifically, Scott aims to raise the firearm purchase age to 21, ban “bump stocks” that can make a semi-automatic weapon fire bullets more rapidly, and allocate 500 million dollars to mental health initiatives and school safety. The Florida Senate also proposed a bill that would require a three-day waiting period for all firearm purchases. While Governor Scott is an A-plus-rated National Rifle Association member and the Florida legislature is one of the most pro-gun rights bodies in the nation, the proposed legislation and plans represent a major step forward in addressing gun violence in the United States. 

Governor Scott also expressed interest in training school officials to protect students upon school board request, yet he did not support the direct arming of teachers. Additionally, Scott called for a school-resource officer in every public school by the commencement of the 2018-2019 school year, mandatory active-shooter training and increased funding for metal detectors, bullet-proof glass and steel doors. Each school district would form a “threat assessment team,” comprised of a teacher, local law enforcement officer, the school’s principal and state agency officials. This represents increased communication and connection between schools and police forces. 

The Florida Education Association (FEA), the largest teachers’ union in the state and normally a vocal opponent of Scott’s, endorsed his proposal: “Our members’ primary concern right now is to ensure that our students feel safe and cared for in our schools,” FEA president Joanne McCall said. 

It is crucial to note that the leaders of the most recent gun reform movement, formed in response to the Parkland shooting, are students. Patricia Brigham, first vice president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, stated that students are the future of the gun-violence prevention movement: “They are future voters and they just lost their classmates, their friends and mentors in a slaughter with a shooter using an AR-15 semi-automatic assault weapon.” In Florida, student organizers have collaborated with the leadership team of the Women’s March in order to coordinate a March on Washington and in other cities across the country. 

Democratic Senator of Connecticut Chris Murphy stated, “These kids know they are plugging into a political movement that is growing in power, and they are laying bare the gun industry mythology that you can’t talk about changing the laws after a mass shooting.” Many teenagers involved in the movement will soon be eligible to vote, which is extremely important considering the upcoming House and Senate elections in 2018. The Parkland shooting empowered students to organize in order to change regarding gun control legislation.   

Contact JJ Citron at [email protected].