After yet another school shooting in the U.S.A., surviving students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Texas, are calling for gun control. Their calls have already sparked plans for action such as a national march and two planned school walkouts.
On 14 February, a 19-year-old former student entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and shot and killed 17 people before being arrested.
It was a sadly familiar tale. According to research by Every Town for Gun Safety, set up in reaction to the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, there have been nearly 300 school shootings in America since 2013, — an average of about one a week.
But this time, there does seem momentum building, using techniques that have proved influential in the recent campaigns such as #MeToo.
Within four days of the shooting, a group of students had formed a campaign, Never Again MSD. One of them, Alex Wind, explained, “In Newtown the students were so young they couldn’t stand up, but trust me – we are going to be the change.” An emotional speech by fellow member Emma Gonzales to a rally in memory of the victims quickly went viral. She told the rally,
“It is time for victims to be the change we need to see.”
Within days, plans were announced associating Never Again with a national march against gun violence on 24 March, March for Our Lives. The Women’s March Youth Wing announced a national school walkout on 14 March – they are asking students and staff to walk out for 17 minutes, one minute for each victim in Parkland. A second walkout is planned on 20 April, the anniversary of the Columbine shooting.
Within a week, the Parkland students had been to see both the Florida governor and President Trump.
Governor Rick Scott has been praised in the past by the National Rifle Association for signing “more pro-gun bills into law — in one term — than any other Governor in Florida history.” As students arrived in the state capital for the meeting, the Florida legislature voted against banning the sale of assault rifles, such as the one used in the Parkland shooting, which lasted barely five minutes.
But by 23 February, Governor Scott announced he was going to call for the age limit to buy firearms to be raised from 18 to 21 in the state (a major demand of #NeverAgain), as well as banning the bump stock accessories that can transform a rifle into a machine gun, and strengthening background checks about the mental health of gun purchasers.
President Trump met 40 students, staff and family members for a “listening session” at the White House. The President has been systematically pro-NRA, and received $30 million in election funding from the organisation. At the listening session, he suggested school shootings could be tackled by arming more teachers. Proponents of armed teachers, including the NRA argue that because shootings happen so rapidly, police and emergency services can’t materially arrive quickly enough. Only someone (usually described as “a good guy with a gun”) who is already on the premises could intervene immediately.
Opponents, including many teachers, say that theisks of keeping firearms on school premises far outweigh any practical advantage, and that the suggestion distracts from calls to control the general number of weapons.
Two teachers, Olivia Bertels and Brittany Wheaton, from Kansas and Utah, started an #ArmMeWith hashtag in response to the President’s suggestion, encouraging educators to post what they would rather be armed with than guns.
Wheaton said, “Teachers already shoulder a huge burden when it comes to educating properly, due to lack of funding, support and resources and making sure their students are taken care of emotionally. Asking us to now carry the burden of having the responsibility to kill is irreparably damaging, even if we never have to discharge our weapon.”
Voting for Change
If the gun control movement can keep up momentum, its supporters hope that voters could make the issue a vital one in this autumn’s mid-term elections for Senate. As one of the Parkland students, 17-year-old Cameron Kasky, points out,
“I can see that there is desperate need for change — change that starts by folks showing up to the polls and voting all those individuals who are in the back pockets of gun lobbyists out of office.
“Please do it for me. Do it for my fellow classmates. We can’t vote, but you can, so make it count.”
AFP PHOTO / RHONA WISE