In the wake of the Parkland, Florida school shooting which left 17 dead, we’ve witnessed a monumental moment for student activists, whose voices have been informed, impassioned, and influential like never before. Survivors have been at rallies at the Florida state capitol demanding change in fierce prose, at CNN Town Halls where they’ve directly debated with law makers like Marco Rubio, and on prestigious television shows like Face The Nation where they’ve aired contempt with the President and N.R.A.’s approach to managing this crisis. And all of that has forced the gun industry, the President, and his fellow Republicans to respond.
Before we move any further, pause to appreciate that. This is a landmark moment in activism. This is the power of putting your voice in service of genuine need.
So then, what has the coalition of gun-interests had to say in response?
In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, President Trump was callous on Twitter (curiously conflating the FBI’s failure to anticipate the shooting with its investigation into his administration’s relationship to Russia), before getting called out by the likes of Anderson Cooper for literally golfing as families in Florida were grieving. He turned it around by hosting students and parents affected by school shootings in a forum at the White House. As students and family members wept and shared, Trump expressed interest in strengthening background checks for people buying guns, and for stronger mental health measures, and to increase the minimum age for purchase, but stopped short of banning certain weapons like the AR-15, which was used in Parkland and in many such shootings.
At the White House Trump was more successful at showing sympathy than he has been in the past, even if it was scripted. Literally: The White House forum went viral for this note on his crib sheet more than anything else.
Overall on the day, Trump’s proposals represented something of a softening compared to his past language after mass shootings. That didn’t last, though.
Now Trump is stumping most vocally to make sure certain “highly adept individuals” be armed at schools (even as surveillance footage showed that one such person at Parkland, a Sheriff’s Deputy, took cover outside rather than going in to save the children’s lives); he also supported arming teachers, saying we should “offer a bonus” to those willing to carry a gun in school.
It’s worth noting that these are both position supported by the National Rifle Association (NRA), the special interest group representing gun rights through incomparable financial contributions to political candidates. In the 2016 election, they supported then-candidate Trump.
The NRA’s contributions have illuminated our political system’s relationship to the influence of monied interests, and the access they have to passing favorable legislation. They accomplish this by supporting the campaigns of candidates who they know will vote their way.
THE NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION
And so, what has been the NRA’s response to Parkland?
The gun lobby, as manifest in the form of Wayne LaPierre, the head of the NRA, made his position known at Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the annual conference of conservative voices and political figures. And he went in hard.
LaPierre went on a blistering attack, calling for the country to “harden our schools,” while attacking those who “hate our freedom” (to carry guns, ostensibly). His speech insinuated that the liberal media, Democrats, and were joined in a socialist plot to “eradicate all individual freedoms” while “evil walks amongst us.”
“The N.R.A. will not only speak out,” he said, “we will speak out louder and we will speak out stronger than ever before.” He also added, “You should be anxious. You should be frightened.”
The NRA and the Republicans are cozy, but there may be some chinks in the armor after Parkland.
Today’s big news: Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, today announced support for raising the age on gun purchases from 18 to 21. It falls short of what students had asked for, but it is contrary to the NRA’s platform, and is the most significant move in gun control in quiet some time. Gov. Scott also backed the ban on “bump stocks,” which allow guns to fire faster. (Trump also expressed some support for this.)
BUT WILL GUN LAWS MATTER?
But the question remains: In a nation where we’ve let nearly 300 million guns on the streets for a populace of nearly 300 million people, will stricter gun laws even matter? There’s no denying that the NRA is actively lobbying to prevent strict gun laws — for example, outright banning certain types of weapons, and making it more difficult for people to buy guns generally. But the debate centers around whether these laws should even be passed, and it’s difficult to make the case outright when the statistics defy being packaged up so tidily to support any one side.
Here, for instance, is a stat that would suggest tougher gun laws would work. The eight states that ban automatic weapons (California, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York) have lower incidences of gun-related deaths, per the Giffords Law Center.
On the other hand, as the New York Times points out, cities with the toughest gun laws like Chicago and Baltimore also have the highest murder rates. There are at least two reasons for this: One is thriving black markets; the other is gun laws with man loopholes, often systematically built-in by politicians who take contributions from, yes, the NRA.
Meanwhile the Supreme Court hasn’t heard a case on the 2nd Amendment (which created a constitutional right to bear firearms) in years, implicitly endorsing the state of gun laws as they exist.
So yes, you can pass laws to limit the legal acquisition of firearms, but as citizens of the internet know, if it’s out there and you want it, you can find a way to get it.
And when there’s practically one gun per person out there, finding one where you are will never be that difficult — whether you’re the one carrying, or you’re on the wrong end of it is the real question.
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