Once again the nation’s elected leaders offer “thoughts and prayers” and side-step action after the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Once again, an immobilized nation mournfully shrugs, as if the gun lobby is too powerful to be held accountable. But the nation once felt that about the tobacco industry and institutionalized racism and sexual harassment and equal pay—until cigarette warning labels, and the #TakeAKnee, #MeToo, #TimesUp movements started chipping away at such iceberg thinking. And now, America awakens to the #NeverAgain movement, started by surviving students motivated to save their own lives if the government won’t protect them.
Political words ringing hollow are actually a threat to everyone’s survival. The anti-terrorism message—“if you see something, say something”—failed to provoke local law enforcement and the FBI into investigating Nikolas Cruz, 19, whose scary obsession with guns and threats to shoot people at the school that expelled him went unheeded.
On Feb. 14, Cruz strolled into his former school, loaded his legally purchased AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle, pulled the fire alarm, and opened fire. Two coaches and 15 students were murdered, with more than 15 others injured. In the six minutes from his arrival at Stoneman Douglas to when Cruz tossed his gun and left alongside terrified fleeing students, Parkland became the deadliest school shooting since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut where 20 children and six adults were killed.
Perhaps more people would have been shot if Stoneman Douglas had not followed “active shooter” protocols — nine out of ten American schools practice lock downs or “active shooter” drills since the Columbine school shooting in 1999.
But Congress is so enthralled to the effectively threatening National Rifle Association (NRA), not even the most sensible of gun safety laws have been passed.
On June 20, 2016, for instance, the Republican-controlled Senate voted down California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s proposal to prohibit any individual who has been on the FBI’s terrorism watch list from buying a firearm. The proposal failed 47 to 53—despite the “thoughts and prayers” for the 49 mostly gay Latinos shot and killed and 58 others wounded by New York-born Omar Mateen, 29, at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida just 8 days before.
The Senate also blocked a gun safety measure proposed after the killing of 14 people and wounding of 22 others on Dec. 2, 2015 at a workplace Christmas party in San Bernardino. And the Senate blocked proposals for new restrictions on gun sales after 20 year old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 schoolchildren and six adults in Newtown three years earlier, on Dec. 14, 2012.
Under pressure, Donald Trump announced on Feb. 20 that he wants a proposed ban on bump stocks, a device that turns guns into machine guns. Longtime gay gun control advocate Rep. David Cicilline introduced bump stock legislation on Oct. 1, 2017, three days after Stephen Craig Paddock fired on 22,000 concert goers in Las Vegas, killing 58 and injuring more than 515. The bill died.
The NRA is not relegated to Congress. On Feb. 20, just hours after dozens of Parkland students and allies headed in buses for the state capitol to talk to lawmakers — Florida House legislators voted against a motion to ban assault rifles and large capacity magazines. Before they voted 36-71 to kill the motion, the legislators offered a prayer for the 17 murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
But this time, legislators will have to face the pain and ire of high school students whose world changed that day they were almost shot to death like their friends. “We are up here standing together because if all our government and President can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see,” surviving high school student Emma Gonzalez told a rally three days after the shooting.
“They say that tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS!” she said. “Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this, we call BS.”
Students who will be eligible to vote in 2018 or 2020 are becoming single-issue voters.
“The reason we started March for Our Lives and the reason we are doing this [marching on Washington] on March 24th, we’ve been hearing a lot that this is not the time to talk about gun control,” junior Cameron Kasky told CNN. Here’s the time to talk about gun control: March 24th. My message for the people in office is, you’re either with us or against us. We are losing our lives while the adults are playing around.”
Adults are stepping up, too. Oprah and George Clooney have each donated $500,000 to the students’ cause. “Our family will be there on March 24 to stand side by side with this incredible generation of young people from all over the country,” Clooney told USA Today.
Nadine Smith, once a co-organizer of the 1993 March on Washington for LGBT rights, is also stepped up. “California, Texas and Florida candidates must lead the way in rejecting support from the NRA. The majority of Americans want policies to stop gun violence but our elected leaders fear crossing the gun lobby. We have to show them that supporting the NRA’s irrational position will cost them elections,” Smith told the Los Angeles Blade after founding the #NoNRAMoney campaign asking voters to pledge to withhold support from any candidate of any party who accepts the backing of the NRA.
“We have to demonstrate that we love our children more than they love their guns.”