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.
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.