I know that I’m not unlike many other Americans when I say that witnessing the political turmoil that has unfolded in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting has left me feeling a strange combination of heartache, anger, hope, skepticism, and above all — confusion.
After Columbine, after Sandy Hook, after Charleston, after San Bernardino, after Orlando, after Las Vegas, after Sutherland Springs, and after the hundreds of other mass shootings each made me think, This is it, this is the last one. The confluence of the student survivor-led #NeverAgain movement, the civilian boycotts and corporate disengagements from federal gun lobbyist the National Rifle Association (N.R.A.), and the sudden shifts in politicians’ stances on gun control legislation have all left me asking myself the same question every time I read a new headline three weeks later: Will Parkland finally be the one?
With the 51-49 Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, the powerful congressional influence of the N.R.A., and simply our country’s own history surrounding gun-related issues — the odds still seem fairly stacked against the recent public outcry for gun control action. Just last week, lawmakers in Florida’s House of Representatives voted down proposals to ban assault-style rifles and to require mental health background checks for licensed weapon carriers.
But despite these factors, President Trump’s unprecedented comments during a meeting with bipartisan lawmakers on live television last Wednesday indicate that the devastation in Parkland, Fl., may mark a turning point in politicians’ long-time grapple with gun regulation.
Historically a fervent supporter of the N.R.A., the President expressed his interest in pursuing comprehensive gun legislation that would include stricter background checks, allow authorities to temporarily seize guns from high-risk individuals without following due process, and raise the minimum age to purchase a rifle from 18 to 21. At one point, he even suggested support for an assault weapons ban.
‘I’m a big fan of the N.R.A. These are great people; these are great patriots. They love our country, but that doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything’, said the President.
While it’s impossible to say whether or not President Trump will actually follow through with these proposals, it’s still important to mark his sudden shift in tone. Whereas only a week earlier, he supported strengthening school defences by way of training and arming school faculties with concealed firearms, on Wednesday he pivoted away from this stance and repeatedly rejected the N.R.A.’s concealed-carry reciprocity.
‘[The N.R.A.] has great power. They have great power over you people. They have less power over me. I don’t need it’, said the billionaire whose presidential campaign received $30.3 million from the gun lobbyist organization.
At the same time around the country, many politicians who historically have aligned themselves alongside the N.R.A. and gun rights are switching gears and distancing themselves from this position. Now, the reputation of being ‘pro-gun’ may be fatally damaging for elected officials whose campaigns initially relied on this same trait, as more voters become increasingly concerned about the federal government’s failure to enact gun control.
For instance, in Minnesota, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, a long-time gun rights advocate and N.R.A. supporter, has completely reversed his position on gun control since the Florida school shooting. As a Democrat, his A-rating from the N.R.A. was vital to his campaign when he ran as a state representative, as it secured support from rural voters. But as of recent, Walz has completely cut ties with the N.R.A. and even proposed a bill to the state legislature that would ban assault weapons in the state.
In the weeks following the attack, student survivors of the Stoneman Douglas shooting have placed pressure on politicians to do something about America’s issues with gun violence, threatening to vote out those who cannot.
‘Governor, it was you who did this. We owe all of this to you, and it’s you who’s going to change it. And if you don’t, expect to feel it in the polls, and expect to get out of there’, said shooting survivor Cameron Kasky in a public message to Florida Gov. Rick Scott during a CNN interview. As he spoke, protestors marching in solidarity with the Parkland victims chanted, ‘Vote them out!’
With midterm elections quickly approaching, these statements and the upcoming marches in support of gun control are all disconcerting for pro-gun rights politicians with N.R.A. affiliations. And only the same can be said in regards to the success of the nationwide #BoycottNRA movement — another indication of the growing public push for gun control.
All of these unforeseen political changes make it difficult for anyone to have an idea of what may be in store for Congress in the upcoming months. And although it’s impossible to know for certain what else to expect from our government, it’s become clear that the aftermath of the Stoneman Douglas shooting marks a shift in the American voter agenda: gun control matters.
Unlike in the case of gun rights voters, voters in favour of gun control have never demanded that their candidates take a stance on this issue. But with students chanting ‘Vote them out!’ in the streets, and gun owners tweeting #BoycottNRA, this trend may very well be over, and it may be time for politicians running for re-election to reconsider their position in the gun control debate.