This could be the start of the #MeToo movement for gun control.
Teenagers across the country still reeling from last week’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., skipped class en masse Wednesday to deliver a stinging rebuke to federal and state lawmakers reluctant to impose new restrictions on guns. From Tallahassee, Fla., to Washington, D.C., the students vowed to be the catalyst for a cultural change in the way Americans think about guns.
“This is just a start. I feel like our school isn’t going to stop until there’s change. ... It could’ve been us,” said Reanna Locke, a sophomore at West Boca Raton Community High School in Boca Raton, Fla. “I shouldn’t have to be afraid to go to school. … I shouldn’t feel like I’m in class and one of my classmates is going to pull out a gun and shoot me.”
Locke and hundreds of her schoolmates marched out of class and walked 10 miles to Stoneman Douglas, where 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz killed 17 students and teachers one week ago. It took them three hours. The students chanted “MSD strong!” and carried signs that voiced their frustration over what they see as an imbalance in priorities: “My life is more important than your guns.”
In Tallahassee, about 100 students who survived the shooting in Parkland rallied at the state Capitol and met with lawmakers to demand a ban on assault-style rifles like the AR-15 used in the Parkland shooting. On Tuesday, state lawmakers voted not to consider such a ban, a measure filed at the beginning of the legislative session, long before last week’s shooting.
Anxious not to appear deaf to the students’ pleas, Florida lawmakers are working on a legislative package to address some of the loopholes that facilitated Cruz’s rampage. The restrictions under consideration include creating a waiting period for purchasing any type of firearm, increasing the minimum age for gun purchases to 21, banning bump stocks that allow semi-automatic guns to fire with machine-gun rapidity, and creating gun-violence restraining orders.
Florida lawmakers also will debate boosting spending on school-based mental health programs and giving police the authority to detain someone considered a danger to themselves or others. A more controversial proposal includes deputizing teachers or administrators so that they can legally carry firearms on campus.
But with just a few weeks left in this year’s legislative session, some of those good intentions are bound to fall through the procedural and political cracks. Republican strategist Rick Wilson said he understood the students’ need to be heard, but “the thought that you get to wave a wand and change the law is something that is probably going to collide with reality.”
The students are well aware of the political realities at work against them, especially their state’s strong support for guns. And they seem to understand this won’t be a long-weekend lobbying effort.
“We’re going to talk to these politicians tomorrow. We’re going to talk to them the day after that. We’re going to keep talking, we’re going to keep pushing until something is done because people are dying and this can’t happen anymore,” Alfonso Calderon, a 16-year-old junior from Stoneman Douglas, told students from Tallahassee who greeted the Parkland convoy when it arrived Tuesday night.
Change often takes time, and these students might have to wait longer than they think to see lawmakers united over such a divisive issue, maybe even until they’re the ones holding office and funding political campaigns. But once in a while culture changes rapidly and unexpectedly, leaving people to wonder how something so intractable suddenly moved, like a dam breaking.
Just ask movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, untouchable for years until the #MeToo movement swept him away.