Can students of the Parkland massacre make a difference in U.S. gun debate?

Joe Zevuloni weeps in front of a cross placed in a park to commemorate the victims of the shooting at nearby Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 16. At least 17 people were killed in the Feb. 14 shooting. (CNS photo/Carlos Garcia Rawlins, Reuters)Joe Zevuloni weeps in front of a cross placed in a park to commemorate the victims of the shooting at nearby Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 16. At least 17 people were killed in the Feb. 14 shooting. (CNS photo/Carlos Garcia Rawlins, Reuters)

Just months after his 18th birthday, three days after his troubling conduct led to his expulsion from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year, the author of Ash Wednesday's suffering in Parkland, Fla., went to a gun store to buy a weapon. He was too young to buy a handgun; under federal law he would have to wait until he was 21.

But at 18 he was just the right age to buy a rifle—in some states he need not be any older than 14 or 16. He selected an AR-15, the civilian version of the military’s M16 rifle, and he used it to carry out the nation’s deadliest school shooting in more than five years.

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We have walked through this script again and again like zombies; we have been through this ritual so many times before. The shooting, the outrage, the “thoughts and prayers,” the prattle from political leadership, the “too soon to talk about it” deflection, the mental health deflection, the futile appeals to Second Amendment maximalists, then the inevitable fade until the next gun obscenity restarts the cycle all over again. In the end, 14 years after the expiration of the assault weapons ban in 2004, little has changed except the number of guns in circulation, now estimated at more than 310 million; the dying in our streets, cinemas, workplaces and schools has only continued.

This time, however, the victims themselves are not having it; they have thrown the familiar process out of sync. From the moment the first shots rang out, they captured the horror and broadcast it, forced the nation to confront it and talk about it.

This time the victims themselves are not having it. From the moment the first shots rang out, they captured the horror and broadcast it, forced the nation to confront it and talk about it.

They are impatient and outraged and unwilling to let the alleged adults, particularly the nation’s politicians, escape with the usual platitudes and postures. They are demanding action in passionate and profane retorts on Twitter, in thoughtful and heartbreaking moments captured on cable news, in heartrending memorials and reminisces in their communities and on social media. The survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting and the suffering parents and families of its 17 victims have had enough with talk and the presumption of helplessness before these intermittent, AR-15 fueled detonations of malice; they want to break out of our national cycle of grieving, regretting and forgetting.

When “thoughts and prayers” have been offered on Twitter this time, they have been soundly slapped back by the students themselves.

“Dear Marco Rubio,” one student says on Twitter: “As a student who was inside the school while an active shooter was wreaking terror and havoc on my teachers and classmates with an AR-15, I would just like to say, YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND.”

“Scariest part of it all was knowing my little brother was right above me and not knowing if I would ever see him again,” another student writes. “I’ve never really treated him the way he deserved. Not anymore. Seeing his face outside of school was the most relief I had ever felt. My prayers to all.”

“two days ago the biggest weight on my mind was my grade in physics,” a young woman says on Twitter. “today, i sobbed in the park with my friends as we wondered what life was going to be like now....marjory stoneman douglas is one of the biggest schools in broward. when sandy hook happened, those children were too young (and are still too young) to speak....we have a voice and we will be heard. nothing will ever be the same again. not douglas, not broward, not florida, not the USA.”

President Trump’s speech of consolation before the nation did not console, and his focus on mental health and beefing up school security without mentioning gun violence generated fury in Florida.

On Friday morning a group of students at nearby South Broward High School continued the pressure. Walking out of classes, the students told news outlets they were protesting gun violence, the National Rifle Association and President Trump. One student’s sign took aim at Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, accusing him of accepting $3 million in “NRA blood money.” The Republican senator’s condescending posturing on Twitter, deploying the usually reliable mental health deflection, had been generating outrage among the student-survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

President Trump’s speech of consolation before the nation did not console, and his focus on mental health and beefing up school security without mentioning gun violence generated fury in Florida. One mother literally grabbed a CNN reporter’s mic. “President Trump, you say, ‘What can you do?’” Lori Alhadeff said. “You can stop the guns from getting into these children’s hands! Put metal detectors at every entrance to the schools. ‘What can you do?’ You can do a lot! This is not fair to our families and our children go to school and have to get killed!

“I just spent the last two hours putting the burial arrangements for my daughter’s funeral, who is 14! Fourteen! President Trump, please do something! Do something. Action! We need it now!”

Gallup pollsters can attest that calls for stricter gun control laws typically follow school shootings, so expect an increase in positive sentiment for more regulation. But five years after the unspeakable murder of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn, in 2012, about 60 percent of Americans support tighter gun regulation, the highest percentage in 14 years. Support goes up even more when specific regulatory remedies are proposed, according to Gallup: There is nearly universal support, at 96 percent, for required background checks; 75 percent support a 30-day waiting period for all gun sales; and 70 percent support a proposal that all guns be registered with local police. (Support for an outright bans falls below the 60 percent “stricter” baseline. Banning the possession of handguns is at 28 percent, while 48 percent favor banning semi-automatic guns.)

It is a painful irony that in the aftermath of gun massacres in recent years, gun laws have become even more liberal. That suggests keeping an eye out for the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act. A top N.R.A. priority, it passed the House in December. The proposed law allows gun owners with concealed-carry licenses in their home states to take their concealed weapon anywhere in the country, overruling other states’ gun laws.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat, says he is committed to press for changes in gun laws. Speaking outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 16, Mr. Nelson said he has been inspired by the students who have been demanding changes to make gun violence less likely.

Mr. Nelson said: “These kids are just terrific…. The fact that they are speaking up as boldly as they are, maybe that’s the turning point. You haven’t heard students speak up one after another after another after witnessing such carnage and speaking out with such conviction.”

Could this latest gun massacre in Parkland finally be the one that changes the momentum on gun policy in the United States? It would be nice to believe so. But at what a terrible cost.

With reporting from the Associated Press.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Lisa Weber
8 months ago

The children who are growing up in a time when mass murdering in schools has become routine are unlikely to forget it when they are old enough to vote and to run for elected offices. We are failing to protect our children and also ourselves. We are failing to vote these irresponsible politicians out of office.

The Second Amendment does not guarantee unrestricted access to all types of guns. We can have better gun laws and better preventive measures - we only have to want it enough to take action.

Mic Easley
8 months ago

Cane and Abel did not have guns. My husband just needed a garage and car exhaust. _Lots_ of people using a garage and car exhaust, for decades. Are we going to outlaw garages? Cars, too. Very lethal. Seriously.
We outlawed full size hygeine items and cosmetics on airlines. This created many TSA jobs, improved demand for "travel size" items, and wrought unconscionable travel delays that cost business travelers and their employers millions of dollars in wasted time -- but did it DIRECTLY SAVE LIVES? Or does it save airlines millions of dollars of jet fuel, not having to haul my full hairspray around?
Nobody _needs_ an assault rifle -- blatantly ridiculous. But the real killer in so many cases is untreated mental illness, the underlying cause -- unmitigated hate and frustration. No one is justified in wreaking havoc and doing violence to others -- neither upon themselves. But until we face our problems, people will use any alternative weapon to cry out in rage for the futility they feel. We have to reverse the perceived stigma regarding mental health and help each other find effective treatment. Dear Lord, have Mercy on us!

Vincent Gaglione
8 months ago

First, to get this issue out of the way, I do not believe a bunch of 13 to 17 year olds will have any effect on gun legislation in the United States, now or 20 years from now. It’s all emotional claptrap and I dare anyone a year, or 20 if I am still alive, from now to prove me wrong. It’s an outcome for which, however, I would be overjoyed.

Why my cynicism? Because Paul Ryan, that paragon Catholic leader of the House of Representatives, (apparently so in the minds of many Bishops and Cardinals in the USA), spoke to the issue and said that discussing legislation in the immediate aftermath of the murders was politically unwise. And a month from now, it will go to the backburner of legislative discussions while another Trump faux-pas becomes the topic of the day.

This story was feel-good but a waste of paper and print!

Kevin Clarke
7 months 4 weeks ago

Never fear: No paper or print was harmed in this digital production.

Vincent Gaglione
8 months ago

So I just watched 5 Parkland high school students on FACE THE NATION. They spoke forcefully, belligerent, and honestly. They intend to start a movement and a March to address all the issues ignored by Congress and the President vis-a-vis mass shootings, especially of children.

If they do succeed, I'll gladly rescind my previous remarks and attend the March. My question to all my pro-life confreres...Will you, our clergy, our nuns, and our bishops be there too?

Christopher Lochner
8 months ago

I'm always wary of marches in that they tend to become more of a mob psychology with results going far beyond what anyone intended. The Catholic Bishops do desire the virtual elimination of handguns from our society as per Crux and other sources. Of course, a church prince has a level of security which most of us lack and will make such statements without any comprehension. When needed, the Prince may summon the police to the door in minutes, the rest of us will see them when they arrive. Power does have perks after all. To be blunt, the Bishops are amazingly disconnected from the real world....Now, let us discuss REAL solutions.

Lisa Weber
7 months 4 weeks ago

I will be there. I never marched in a demonstration before this presidency, never donated to a political candidate, and never volunteered to work on a campaign. I have done all three since January 2017. If anything good has come out of the horror of the current presidency, it has taught people that they cannot sit on the sidelines in politics.

E.Patrick Mosman
8 months ago

Fox News Sunday featured students from Parkland who are very articulate and are planning a march to do "something"about gun violence but have no specific proposals that would stop end or even minimize the possibility of such attacks in "gun free" zones in the future. Some States and cities have very strict gun purchase/ownership laws, bordering on being unconstitutional in some instances, and that did not stop the school shooting in Connecticut.
Shouldn't the question be how do you protect "gun free" schools from gun violence or should there be "gun free" schools at all?

Stanley Kopacz
8 months ago

AI driven nonlethal minidrones will do the job precisely and quickly. Better than some overweight undertrained fellow. Guns are passé. Or, we could take our government back from the special interests and disarm to the level the Australians did. Haven't heard of many mass shootings there in years.

E.Patrick Mosman
8 months ago

"AI driven nonlethal minidrones" How?
"overweight undertrained fellow." Why not properly trained,physically fit males or females?
"Australians did. Haven't heard of many mass shootings there" Have you checked "massacres"
"Guns are passé." Not all mass killings are with guns.
Check out List of Massacres in Australia
Checkout Bath School Disaster

Stanley Kopacz
7 months 4 weeks ago

How with AI? Were you frozen in the 20th Century and recently thawed? I'd give you a link but America blocks links. Go to Youtube and search "slaughterbot". Physically fit guys (or girls) with guns can be made obsolete right now. Unfortunately, slaughterbots are also scarier and will be ten times more effective. That's what's so pathetic about gun worshippers. They're living in the past technologically and have no imagination.
As for mass shootings, they remain the exception elsewhere and are the rule here. But, the technological solution is there. It just has to be implemented. It probably will eventually be realized and this whole controversy will become moot. But it unfortunately leads to a new sophisticated technology for killing people.

E.Patrick Mosman
7 months 4 weeks ago

The Norwegian killer killed 77 with a gun and bomb, the terrorists In France used guns for their mass murders and you also ignore the massacres in Australia,all countries with draconian gun laws. I suspect your almighty "slaughterbot" use guns.
Nice effort to ignore the present day question the question is how do you protect "gun free" schools from gun violence or
should there be "gun free" schools at all? Any intelligent thoughts on the real problem?

too.

Stanley Kopacz
7 months 3 weeks ago

It's stupid to expect to reduce the probability to zero. No such thing. One can reduce the probability, probably by a large margin, as Australia did by banning semi-automatics.
As for "my" slaughterbots, they don't need guns. To kill only requires a 3mg high explosive shaped charge delivered to the cranium. But they can be dialed back to nonlethal by using incapacitating drug delivery. Old army officers still believed in cavalry before WWI. Ah, the beauty and awe of a cavalry charge. Hello, machine gun.
Also, the minidrones won't hide outside like well trained good guys with guns. What a joke.

J Cosgrove
8 months ago

What is common in most violent crimes in the United States is the lack of an active father in the life of the criminal. America, the magazine, is on record in denying this is s major factor.

Nikolas Cruz was brought up in a fatherless home. He was adopted when his adoptive mother was 50 and his adoptive father died when he was 6

Dani Iverson
7 months 4 weeks ago

I'm going talk about the elephant in the room even if it's with my dying breath: IT'S MALES WHO ARE DOING THE MASS KILLINGS, WHITE MALES!

J Cosgrove
7 months 4 weeks ago

Is it different to the one killed if it is a mass killing or just an individual killing. To be fair, you should include all killings of others and distribute them and then compare.

And how many of these killing have taken place in gun free zones. What would concealed carry have done if it were available in the Florida high school. We would have never learned about it since it probably would not have taken place.

What is about fatherless boys or uninvolved fathers that leads to this? That is the question the editors and authors should be asking. But they won't because it would get too uncomfortable for them.

Douglas Fang
7 months 4 weeks ago

I also listened to the powerful statements of the young students on CBS. It’s about time!

“You can fool all people sometimes. You can fool some people all the time. But you cannot fool all people all the time”.

The NRA and gun-lobby have been fooling America for too long. I hope America is not brain dead and has the courage to stand up to the gun-lobby. Mental illness is just a scapegoat. All other advanced countries also have the same mental issues and yet, it is extremely rare to hear about mass shooting there, except for the case of terrorism. Easy access to guns and especially semi-automatic guns is the main enabler of mass shooting here.

Charles Erlinger
7 months 3 weeks ago

Dependence for school safety on armed teaching and administrative faculty will completely transform the workforce of school districts. Those assigned law enforcement and public safety responsibilities will have to meet all requirements of state, county and municipal authorities and will have to answer in their day today activities to the constitutionally and statutorily established administrative authorities in those entities, in addition to their already full time educational responsibilities, which, by the way, already include many quasi social service responsibilities.

The educational authorities must, as they are sworn to do, demand that faculties place full time efforts on raising reading and math scores on standardized tests and will be held responsible for any failure to recognize indicators of socially or psychologically troubled students, while the law enforcement and public safety authorities must, as they are sworn to do, demand that those faculty sworn to uphold the law and defend with their lives all students threatened by armed aggressors, confront such aggressors as a priority over all other responsibilities.

Teacher associations as well as police and sheriff associations will weigh in on pay and benefit demands as well as working conditions and union representation.

State, county, municipal and school district elected councils, boards and legislative bodies sworn to provide revenue and budget authorizations for these arrangements will have to address state law and constitutional issues. Demands, quite common already, among police forces and sheriffs departments, for improved weaponry and military equipment to provide armor parity between defenders and aggressors, will have to be met.

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