America has a serious gun violence issue. While people have some pretty polarizing views when it comes to how we should solve this issue, most folks agree that our country's sky-high rates of gun violence are unacceptable and need to be fixed some way, somehow. 2017 alone brought us a total of 346 mass shootings and 65 school shootings reported on school campuses in the United States alone. 2017 also was the year of the infamous Las Vegas massacre which left 58 people dead and more than 500 people injured, becoming the most deadly mass-shooting our country has ever seen.
And the truth is, these numbers don't even accurately reflect the reach gun violence truly has. The most accepted definition for a "mass shooting" is "four or more individuals being shot or killed in the same general time and location." The number of mass shootings is often seen as the benchmark for how serious a threat of gun violence in America is because these events receive massive amounts of media coverage. However, this doesn't account for those killed by gun-related homicides, suicides, and accidents. In 2016, that number reached a whopping 38,658 gun deaths in the United States, according to the CDC.
Gun violence occurs so frequently in the United States that it has become ingrained in our culture and normalized to a large extent. Gun homicides are mainly covered on local news stations and are never really viewed as "breaking news" that deserves extensive coverage. It has come to the point where the vast majority of mass shootings are just blips in the news cycle. It's not that the American public has grown apathetic. There are simply too many gun-related tragedies to give proper time to each one. It doesn't help that the fast-paced nature of media coverage makes it difficult to rally behind a cause in the wake of yet another shooting.
The few times when a shooting has received extensive coverage in recent years, it has been for its extraordinary circumstances. The slaughter of a bunch of innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary became the deadliest American primary school shooting, the massacre at a Charleston church was intended to start a race war, and the Pulse Night Club shooting was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history before the Las Vegas shooting claimed the title just a year later. Each of these shootings renewed debate about gun control in the United States on more universally agreeable pieces of legislation whether it be universal background checks, mandatory waiting periods, banning the sale of bump stocks and certain semi-automatic weapons, and more funding allocated towards mental health programs.
Despite all of the discussion of gun reform, the legislative victories were few and far between for the most part. There would be no massive wave of new, strengthened gun control laws passed by all of the state legislatures, and the federal government didn't pass any sweeping reforms either.
However, after the shooting that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in February 2018, it seemed as if this era of tragedy followed by legislative inaction was finally coming to a close.
The Parkland shooting under normal circumstances would have likely been more akin to a blip in the national news feed and would have faded into irrelevancy within a week or so of the initial reports. While 17 students and staff members were tragically killed, by this point in time Americans were used to hearing about massive shootings with triple the number of casualties.
But the Parkland shooting was far from a blip. Primetime press coverage lasted for months. This time instead of the media's usual coverage focusing on the sheer awfulness of the situation, the surviving students quickly took control of the narrative and refocused the storyline on preventing similar tragedies from happening again. Students were given a national platform, and they ran with it to encourage others to join their movement to demand gun control reform. A select few of these students-turned-activists such as Emma Gonzalez and David Miles Hogg became household names and achieved a celebrity-icon status that many increasingly politically engaged youths could look up to. The students, their parents, and the staff of Marjory Stoneman Douglas quickly founded the political action committee Never Again MSD to demand legislative action regarding firearms. They organized a national school walk-out and the March for Our Lives which saw millions of young people across the country protest to end government inaction regarding gun reform.
While attempts have been made before in the wake of prior widely-reported mass shootings to begin gun reform movements, a few key elements allowed the Never Again movement to succeed whereas those before it was never quite able to build up any traction. The first being that the students who stepped forward to give a voice to the movement came from a relatively affluent community with a good educational system and were old enough to eloquently communicate their feelings and facts about gun control and its importance to those who may have been apprehensive. Yet, at the same time, as high schoolers, they were also relatable to a younger teenage demographic. The Never Again movement worked to ensure that they stayed in the press long enough to put pressure on legislators by making many high profile appearances in the news, on talk shows, meeting with the President, and most notably organizing the March for Our Lives and the national school walk-out. The movement also owes some of its success to President Trump, who, after his election, inadvertently caused many people who were concerned about his presidency to pay attention and get involved politically for the first time.
Perhaps most importantly, the students were unapologetic about calling out unreceptive politicians by name who received campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association. It was made abundantly clear that politicians who pushed the agendas of the NRA above those of their young constituents would soon be voted out of office.
The Never Again movement's bold and aggressive strategies appear to have finally cracked the code in terms of accomplishing wide-scale gun reform. In the nearly six months since the massacre, legislators in 26 states passed 55 gun safety bills. While the majority of these states were unsurprisingly blue states, deep red states such as Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Tennessee, and South Dakota went against the conservative grain and enacted gun reforms as well. Even Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican who previously held an A-plus rating given to him by the NRA, signed a set of bills that barred individuals deemed a danger to themselves or others from purchasing a firearm and raised the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21.
But has it been enough? Has America's issue of systemic gun violence finally been solved once and for all? The answer is no, not really. Incidents of gun violence on every measure whether it be mass shootings, school shootings, or total gun deaths are consistent with America's sky-high figures from previous years. There are still countless vocal groups of people who see any aim at gun reform as a malicious infringement upon their 2nd Amendment rights. While 26 states did pass gun safety bills, the other 24 state governments opted not to. Many states' legislative victories concerning gun control came in the form of failing to pass bills that would actually loosen guns laws rather than strengthen them. The last time Congress passed major gun control legislation was in 1994 and the provisional ban of 19 types of semi-automatic firearms failed to be renewed in 2004. Even Governor Rick Scott who was heralded as a newfound champion for common sense gun reform signed a provision allowing trained school staff to carry handguns.
This is not to say the Never Again movement came up short by any means. The numerous gun safety bills passed by state legislatures haven't yet had adequate time to take effect. The Parkland students grabbed the attention of an entire nation and opened up a national dialogue that had previously simmered down. They proved that the NRA is not invincible and real change can come as a result of putting pressure on elected officials. And, most importantly, they inspired a new generation of political activism that has just begun.