Prologue: It was Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2018 when a 19 year old gunman walked into Parkland High School in Florida and murdered fourteen students and three staff nenbers with a AR-15 rifle in six minutes. During the two weeks since then, something different has been happening across the country compared with the aftermaths that followed continued mass shootings since Columbine High School in l999 in Colorado. Certain recent names reverberate: Orlando, Florida-Pulse nightclub; Las Vegas, Nevada –music festival; Sandy Hook, Connecticut, Elementary school. Horror , grief, outcry from the public brought attempts each time to pass federal gun control laws for background checks and a ban on assault weapons. They all eventually failed when the National Rifle Association ( N.R.A.) built its power over members of Congress to vote “No”!
Different Aftermath to Parkland: The three thousand high school students turned their grief into action. They became galvanized , declaring “We will change the laws!” On Saturday, students held a rally at the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale. They waved handmade signs, shouted into a microphone and chanted. Emma Gonzalez, an 18 year-old senior, electrified the crowd with her passionate words. She pledged that her school would be the last mass shooting. An hour later, a video of her speech had been viewed 100,000 times!
She was informed, angry and explicit: “The people in the government who are in power, are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and are prepared to call B.S. They say that tougher laws do not decrease gun violence. We call B.S. They say, ‘A good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun’ — we call B.S. They say that guns are just tools like knives and are as dangerous as cars —we call B.S! That us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works—we call B.S.!” Then, she paused, wiped her eyes and urged everyone in the crowd to vote in November and give their elected officials, “a piece of your mind”. “ This is the way I have to grieve. I have to make sure that everybody knows, this is something that isn’t allowed to happen.”
In the days that followed, three busloads of Parkland students traveled 450 miles to Tallahassee, the state capital with parents and teachers. On the way, they heard that the State legislature had voted NOT TO TAKE UP a possible ban on assault weapons as certain other states have done. They were angered and disappointed but continued on the way. David Hogg, a senior and student news director, told CNN. “ We’re children. You guys are the adults.” We need to do something. We need to be politically active. This is about guns.” Tyra Hemans, l9, a senior, had taken a poster with the word ENOUGH to a funeral of a classmate, said, “Change is going to come of this.” After the protest ended, a group stayed, chanting and hugging. One sign read, “My friend died for what?” Another, “It could have been us.” They yelled, “No more guns. No more guns.”
Across the country, students and their parents formed the core of the Gun Control Movement that has built rapidly. By Monday, February 19, a group called Teens for Gun Reform was pictured in color on the front page of the New York Times conducting a lie-in near the White House. A nationwide March against Guns is planned for March 24, aided by the organizers of the huge Women’s Marches after Trump’s inauguration. On Tuesday, February 20, there were walkouts from schools to commemorate Parkland and voice their support. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat have spread the movement. The students are optimistic that their participation will make a difference. Julia Bishop, 18, on one of the buses to Tallahassee had said, “We definitely have a moral obligation to do something. These adults, these politician, these lawmakers, these legislators, they were supposed to protect us. And they didn’t.”
Newspaper and magazine advertisements present names of Representatives and Senators with Dollars they receive from the N.R.A and phone numbers.
On February 21, a two page spread appeared in The New York Times, from Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety. On the left was a picture of Parkland students walking out of the school in file on February 14. In huge black letters were the words, “We’re children. You guys are adults… get something done.” Parkland School shooting Survivor. On the right page was the list of hundreds of names of Representatives and Senators in the 50 states, alphabetically with Alabama first. The heading at the top: These Members of Congress Take NRA Money, But Refuse to Take Action To Pass Gun Safety Legislation. Tell Your Member of Congress that Your Vote is Going Elsewhere Unless They Act. In Kentucky, Mitch McConnell, Majority Leader of the Senate who will control whether Gun Control is even debated received $825,375. In Florida, Marco Rubio was listed at over one million. ( In another listing in the New York Times, his number was three million, three hundred thousand plus.) The entire page was filled with names. At the bottom was “If They Won’t Act, It’s Up to Us to Elect Leaders Who Will.
An article in The New York Times by David Leonhardt, October, 2017 was reprinted after Parkland with the ten Senators and Ten Representatives who received the most money from the NRA. It also included important information: Of the top one hundred Representatives who receive dollars from the NRA, ninety five are Republicans. In The Senate, the top Democrats receiving NRA money are Joe Manchin and Patrick Leahy of Vermont who rank 52 and 53 behind every Republican except Dan Sullivan of Alaska.
Boycott against the N.R.A. Corporations that have joined are from different areas and industries. United and Delta Airlines will discontinue discounts to N.R.A. related flights. Car Rentals that have joined the boycott include: Avis, Hertz, Alamo, Budget, National, Enterprise. Met Life Insurance joined.
Cable Television has taken an active role since Parkland. CNN held a major Town Meeting with thousands of participants on February 21 in Sunrise, Florida. It was scheduled for two hours, from nine to eleven. On center stage were Parkland students and parents to debate and ask questions of Democratic Senators Bill Nelson,Democrat and Marco Rubio,Republican,and Democratic Representative Ted Deutsch. Governor Rick Scott, Republican was invited but did not attend. N.R.A. Spokesperson Dana Loesch attended. CNN Jake Tapper was the moderator. The entire two hours were filled with students speaking truth to power and seeking assurances from Rubio that he would change his support for the NRA. Thousands rose and roared when Deutsch began by saying that Rubio and Trump “were weak in their responses to the massacre.” When a young survivor stood face to face with Rubio and asked, “Will you commit to giving up NRA money?” thousands rose again and thundered. Rubio tried to explain his position but did not make that commitment. During the second hour, The NRA spokeswoman was booed repeatedly when she answered students questions.
During the February 21 afternoon, Donald Trump had held a Listening Hour at the White House. Student survivors and their parents had been invited to join him, sitting in a circle to talk together. It was a completely different setting filmed live by the press. He welcomed them and listened intently to their comments and questions. ( The cameras caught the white note card he held with typed responses to express empathy. ) He had visited several injured students in the Florida hospital the weekend after the shooting. When the hour ended, he asked for ideas and was most taken with the father who suggested teachers should carry guns. In the days that followed, training “adept teachers” who would “conceal carry “ was tweeted and shared in interviews as his main solution, with a “bonus” for the teachers. The NRA , of course, was in full support.The New York Times lead editorial on February 23, “Let the Teachers Teach”. Every gun expert in the country was against the idea knowing that even trained police have misfires with moving targets.
Four Northeast States agree to share Gun Safety data: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Rhode Island, with the lowest rates of gun deaths in the U.S. will work to give information to Florida and other states. All have Democratic governors and control of their legislatures.
Epilogue: The Supreme Court ,on February 21, refused a Second Amendment challenge to a California law that sets a ten day waiting period for firearms purchases. California with a ban on assault weapons has been in the lead for gun safety for years. This decision sent a strong positive signal to the passionate young survivors of the Parkland Massacre —that the highest court in the land appears to be on their side in their fight to “change the laws” in the months ahead.
………………………………………………………………………………………..Joyce S. Anderson