Americans have always seemed to have a short memory and be a culture that, in my lifetime, has seemed to be numb to tragedies like the one that occurred over three weeks ago when a former student walked in and cut short 17 innocent lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Again, America came face to face with another mass shooting, something that we have sadly grown far too used to during the past decade. The main difference between this tragedy and the others, however, appears to be the national response. In the aftermath of prior mass shootings, we grieved as a nation, had a brief gun control debate, and then a week later the general public and the news cycle moved on to some other event. This was the case in the Aurora, Orlando, and Vegas shootings. The only exception to this brief attention period was been Sandy Hook, and even the news coverage for that horrible tragedy ended after a couple weeks. These prior reactions to mass shootings in America is why this time, Parkland seems to be so different. Even three weeks after the tragic events of February 14th, the event still has the top spot in the news cycle, is still talked about amongst the general public, and the country appears to be having its most intense and lengthy gun control debate of my lifetime and one that might finally lead to something possibly being done at both the local and federal levels of our government.
Parkland may very well, and so far appears likely, to be the American version of Port Arthur, the 1996 mass shooting in Australia that led to mass public support for tougher gun laws. It led to Australia’s prime minister signing the most sweeping gun control legislation in that country’s history. The evidence for this following Parkland is clear. Via a CNN poll, the number of those who favor tighter gun laws has jumped to 70%, its highest level since 1993. Fifty-two percent of those polled are now strongly in favor of stricter gun laws, 15% above the previous high water mark of 37% in 2013 following the December 2012 Sandy Hook massacre. Both the Quinnipiac and CBS News polls conducted in the past couple of weeks found that over 60% of the US public favors a ban on semi-automatic weapons such as AR-15s, also the highest numbers recorded since the early 1990s. These numbers aren’t just seen in polling, but they are being felt in our everyday lives as well.
If I had to pinpoint one reason to why the fallout from Parkland has been different from previous mass shootings, it’s the wave of activism following this shooting that has been stronger, larger and wider spread. This is why I think that America has possibly hit its breaking point on the gun control debate. Pressure from members of the American public have influenced decisions by Delta, United, Enterprise, Metlife, and others to cut ties with the NRA, and other corporations, such as FedEx and Amazon, may soon cut theirs as well in response to potential boycotts by consumers over the matter. There have also been massive school walkouts not just in Florida, but across the country on the matter, with another walkout planned for March 14th and a March for Our Lives event planned in Washington DC and elsewhere across the country ten days later on the 24th. The tremendous size of activism since the shooting is not only due to changing opinions throughout America when it comes to gun control, but in part because this time the activist leadership has been stronger, in larger numbers, and more outspoken than that of gun control activist leaders following prior mass shootings that have taken place in our country's history. Regardless of your position on this issue, you have to admire the activism from the kids at Stoneman Douglas High School. Even NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, someone who clearly disagrees with these kids on the issue of gun control, stated at the CNN town hall in Parkland that she admired the activism of these young kids and that they are speaking out and organizing about something they are passionate about. Without the courage to speak out and activism by Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky and other classmates of theirs at Stoneman Douglas, it is fair to say that the Never Again movement that is sweeping the nation in the weeks following the tragedy would not have happened, and events like the March for Our Lives, organized entirely by Gonzalez, Hogg, and Kasky, would not be occurring if it wasn’t for them feeling the need to do something about an issue that they are passionate about. These kids have experienced more heartbreak, sadness, and pain then most of us will ever experience in our lifetime. The fact that they are doing all of this while they are still in a grieving period for their fallen classmates and teachers shows how much they care about making sure a tragedy like what happened in Parkland never happens again, and that no one in a school dies because of someone who shouldn’t have a gun (again, I think that we all agree that Nicholas Cruz or anyone with as many red flags as he had shouldn’t have a gun).
Going back to those red flags, no one should be letting the local Broward County police department or the FBI off the hook for how badly they mishandled this. The red flags on Cruz were numerous. He was kicked out of school, and the Broward County Department had over 40 calls to their office with concerns about Cruz’s behavior. The sheriff's department should have done something about Cruz, but they didn’t. The officer stationed outside the school should have ran into the school as soon as he heard gunfire and attempt to stop the mass shooting, but he didn’t and stayed outside like a coward. It’s the officer's job to protect the school, and he needs to do that job no matter the circumstances. In this case, he didn’t, and he was rightfully fired for not carrying out his duty. But the question now is how much of the blame gets put on Sheriff Israel for the failures of his department? And should he resign or be fired for them? Personally looking at all the red flags and the inability of his officers to act, a sign both of their own cowardliness but also because of poor training by the department. Yes, there should be stricter laws in place that can prevent potentially dangerous civilians like the Parkland shooter from having a gun, but the police department also needs to do its job to try and stop attacks before, and when they sadly do occur.
While the atmosphere around the country seems to be different, the question is do the politicians in state capitols and the nation's capital respond differently than they have to past shootings? By this, I mean actually take legislative action. It appears as if this tragedy is the one that has finally moved some of the Republicans such as Marco Rubio towards the center. Again, however, time will tell if this is an actual movement towards the center or is it just bluffing? Take Marco Rubio for example. Rubio pleasantly surprised the entire town hall in Parkland with announcing that he supports raising the age limit to buy rifles to 21, said he was not in favor of arming teachers, as well as possibly considering lowering the size of magazine capacities. Rubio to his credit has announced his own gun safety plan which includes temporary restraining orders, as well as announcing that he is co-sponsoring another bill with fellow Florida Democrat Bill Nelson that would require states to be notified of every time someone on the banned buyer's list lies and buys a gun illegally. This action is already a federal crime, but one in which the state is rarely informed of the attempt and one that the federal government rarely prosecutes. But again, this is Marco Rubio. Yes, the same Marco Rubio who complained about not getting as big of a child tax credit as he wanted in the tax reform bill, threatens not to vote for it, and then 24 hours late switched his mind and was a yes vote. The same Marco Rubio who made many objections to the Obamacare repeal bill and demands for what he wanted in it, such as flexible Medicaid caps for public emergencies, threatened to vote no, and then, you guessed it, 24 hours later declared that he was a yes. And yes, he is the same Marco Rubio that showed up at that town hall and the same one from the 2016 GOP primaries. Yes, I give Rubio a lot of credit for showing up to a hostile environment, but there were times where he looked like he wished that he never would’ve come. He appeared floored, his face looked like he was experiencing a nightmare, and at times he seemed to have no control over the room and had a lack of depth when answering questions, repeating the same things over and over again in the same way that Chris Christie grilled him on during the 2016 primary debate in New Hampshire. This is also the Marco Rubio that acted like he would be a Republican who stood up to Trump, only to get constantly bullied and pushed around by him and the field in 2016, resulting in Rubio full on endorsing him in the general election like the weak politician that he has shown himself to be. Yes, Rubio appears to have plans on guns, but the NRA is going to bully him and push him around to get him to move back to his prior positions and prevent him from trying to push McConnell to let his bills come to a vote on the Senate floor. Following the track record, a good betting man would say that Marco Rubio eventually gives in and scraps his plans all for a few more thousand dollars from the NRA.
The same can be said for Florida Governor Rick Scott and President Trump. Scott’s moves were the most shocking, as he announced a $500 million dollar program boost mental health programs, school safety measures, and make it nearly impossible for those with mental health issues to buy a gun, a major shift for a man who has signed five pro-gun bills into law during his 8 years in Tallahassee and has an A+ NRA rating. But yet, the Florida legislature seems unlikely to pass much of this considering who is in charge, and Scott has appeared to have little influence since his announcement to push his party leaders in the statehouse in that direction. Scott also may be bluffing, with a possible run for Senate against Nelson lurking. Scott may be moderating on an issue that at the moment appears like it will be near the top of Florida voters minds this fall. If Scott runs, Nelson will most likely hold his feet to the fire on the issue, if not, then I would consider that Scott was being serious after all (he may very well be if he runs for Senate to). The last of course is Donald Trump. Trump has surprised everyone with his moderation on seemingly almost every single gun position, except for his one to arm teachers. Trump has called for bans on bump stocks, raising the age limit to 21 to buy a rifle, tougher and universal background checks. He even suggesting a vote on Dianne Feinstein's bill that would ban AR-15s and other assault-style weapons while calling out his own party for being weak when it came to standing up to the NRA in moves that shocked everyone in the nation, no matter what side of the gun debate you are on. Yes, Trump appeared to be going through the most stunning moderation on a policy issue at the heart of the culture wars that propelled him to victory, then only days later meet with NRA members who stated that Trump mentioned he would drop all talk about gun control, not a surprising move by the hypocrite and flip-flopper in chief.
As long as the NRA is there and the Republicans control congress and the white house, nothing much at all likely gets done. The NRA is one of the most powerful political organizations in the nation, and its influence is one seemingly unparalleled by almost any political organization in America. But maybe, just maybe, this time is the time the NRA doesn’t matter in state capitals and the nation's capital when it comes to the issues of gun control in America. The public opinion for gun control is at an all-time high, gun control advocates seem to be an all-time high in terms of energy, and the Never Again movement seems like one that will stay in the headlines for a long, long time. The survivors of the Parkland school shooting seem passionate to do something, they seem passionate to push for stricter gun control, along with a large swath of the nation, until Congress and the president finally do something. And that is what makes this time so different, as this time we as a nation didn’t just come together for a couple days, mourn, do nothing and move on, but this time it seems as if the American public has finally hit its breaking point, it's had enough, and it seems to be on a course to try and accomplish something to prevent the next Parkland from occurring before it is too late.