Democracy in AmericaFeb 13th 2019by M.S.R. | WASHINGTON, DCtwitter iconfacebook iconlinkedin iconmail iconprint iconPUBLIC REACTION to school shootings in America follows a familiar pattern: an outpouring of grief and revulsion is followed by demands for stricter gun laws, which peter out in the face of implacable resistance from pro-gun politicians. But that pattern was interrupted…
PUBLIC REACTION to school shootings in America follows a familiar pattern: an outpouring of grief and revulsion is followed by demands for stricter gun laws, which peter out in the face of implacable resistance from pro-gun politicians. But that pattern was interrupted after a teenager walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on February 14th last year with a semiautomatic rifle and killed 14 students and three teachers.
The response of the student-survivors of Parkland, who poured their pain and fury into a new campaign for gun control, kept the tragedy in the news for much longer than usual. And the vast March for our Lives network their campaign spawned, with its explicit focus on political registration and participation, has kept it there, as media coverage of the one-year anniversary of the Parkland shooting this week shows. What else has the newly energised movement for gun control achieved?
A year after the massacre of 14 high-school students, what has changed?
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Not the “Never again” of the Parkland students’ rallying cry, certainly. America has introduced no stringent national gun controls of the kind imposed by Australia and Britain after mass-shooting atrocities. And more horrors have inevitably followed. Three months after the Parkland shootings, a gunman killed 10 people at Santa Fe High School in Texas. In October, 11 were slaughtered at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Hundreds more Americans have been shot dead across the country.
And hopes that Congress might pass serious gun laws any time soon remain dim. Though Democrats took the House of Representatives in November’s mid-terms, gun-loving Republicans cemented their hold on the Senate. On February 13th, the House Judiciary Committee introduced a bill requiring background checks on all firearm sales. Though such a step is backed by a majority of Americans (a majority also supports a ban on assault weapons) Senate Republicans will almost certainly block it. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, with its new conservative majority, has probably become a further impediment to gun-law reform. Last month it announced it would take up a gun-rights case for the first time since 2010.
The redoubled push for gun control has nonetheless won some victories, particularly at state-level. Last year, dozens of states passed gun regulations, and far fewer state laws expanded gun rights than the year before. Campaigners for gun control compare this, perhaps optimistically, to the campaign for gay marriage, which was legalised state-by-state before it became legal nationally.
Nine of the states to introduce gun laws had a Republican governor, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, which was co-founded by Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York and a prospective Democratic presidential candidate. Florida, one of the most gun-loving states in America, raised the gun-buying age from 18 to 21 and imposed a three-day waiting period for anyone wanting to buy a gun. It was also one of nine states to introduce “red flag” laws that allow police to confiscate guns from any person considered a threat.
The campaign has also had an impact on business. After Parkland, Dick Sporting Goods, a retailer, stopped selling the kind of semiautomatic rifle used in the Parkland shooting. It also raised the age for gun-buyers in its stores to 21, as did Walmart. The founder of Toms, a shoe company, is travelling to Capitol Hill this week to deliver postcards urging lawmakers to pass the background checks bill. A number of companies also dropped their discounts for members of the National Rifle Association. That may make commercial sense: last year a poll suggested that for the first time since 2000 more Americans had a negative view of the NRA than a positive one.
While the mid-term elections did not bring the big changes to gun laws that campaigners had hoped for, they also illustrate some important progress. In at least 12 races in November, Democrats given an “F” rating by the National Rifle Association kicked out “A”-rated Republicans. They were helped by gun control organisations like Everytown, which spent more on the mid-terms than the NRA did. One of them was in Georgia’s sixth district, where Lucy McBath, a gun-control activist whose young son was shot dead in 2012, beat the Republican incumbent. The district had been held by Republicans since Newt Gingrich won it in 1978.
Democrats have not always wanted to campaign on gun control. Many believed it cost them control of the House in 1994 and lost Al Gore the presidency in 2000. But in 2020 all the Democratic candidates for the presidential nomination are expected to call for action on guns. Several have already done so.