On February 14, a nineteen-year-old carrying an AR-15-style assault weapon killed seventeen people and injured fourteen more at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida marking the thirtieth mass shooting of 2018. By the time the Parkland shooter had stepped foot on campus that day, the Las Vegas shooting had likely faded from the minds of the most representatives in government, if not most of the American public. And similarly, by the time the Vegas shooting occurred, the Orlando shooting was no longer present in the news cycle, and legislative proposals that aimed to prevent such an incident in the future gradually became scarcer on the floors of Congress.
After each national tragedy, we seem to attempt to tackle the issue for some time afterwards—with protesters fighting for stricter gun control and representatives in the federal and state governments calling for action—but then gradually fall into complacency, disillusioned with the seeming incapacity of Congress to pass any legislation that could have possibly ameliorated or prevented the wounds we have suffered as a nation from gun violence. It remains to be seen whether the cycle will reign this time, but at least for now, the American public has been persistent in demanding change.
Over the course of the week following the Parkland shooting, the White House has attempted various approaches to addressing and uniting the nation after last week’s tragedy. President Trump’s response the day after the shooting focused on offering support and sympathy towards the Parkland victims. “We are all joined together as one American family, and your suffering is our burden also,” he stated. “No child, no teacher, should ever be in danger in an American school.”
People largely criticized the response for lacking any clear policy initiatives. The only allusion to a concrete solution was working with state and local governments to “secure our schools and tackle the difficult issue of mental health,” but such a claim is undermined by the fact that he is advocating for a budget that would (1) cut funding for Medicare and Medicaid and hence for mental health programs, and (2) deliver large cuts to school safety programs. Furthermore, legislation that would target the mentally ill would run the risk of stigmatizing the mentally ill as a whole and not amending the issue at all, considering that only a small percentage of mass shooters have been mentally ill.
After the criticism his response received, Trump and his administration organized a meeting on February 21 in the White House with survivors of the Parkland shooting, with the aim of listening to their stories and ideas for how to move forward. Its efficacy was undermined, however, by the fact he was holding a notecard with talking points geared towards reminding him to show compassion and empathy, the mixed reactions of the survivors in attendance, and the backlash he received for suggesting that legalizing concealed carry for trained teachers would deter potential mass shooters, as well as his tweet the next day accusing “Fake News” of incorrectly reporting what he said during the meeting.
Possibly at the chagrin of his aides and allies who believe he should avoid alienating his pro-gun base by continuing to support gun control legislation, since the meeting with the Parkland survivors, Trump has come out in support of various other gun control measures, including tighter background checks, raising the minimum age to buy rifles from eighteen to twenty-one, and a ban on bump stocks. It remains unclear whether these measures are bold enough to enact substantial change or prevent similar shootings in the future, though.
The sense of uncertainty that lies in how Trump and his administration have handled the aftermath of the Parkland shooting is perhaps most concerning. Trump himself has a largely indecisive record when it comes to gun rights, though as a candidate and as president, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has supported him wholeheartedly. Now that he has come out in support of measures that the NRA has opposed, it is possible that Trump, as a figure with major appeal and influence among his pro-gun base, could push the Republican party towards tolerating, if not outright backing, gun regulation measures that the American electorate has historically supported. It is equally possible that, judging by his past indecisiveness, he will heed the advice of his aides and gradually back away from the issue altogether.
The responses of state officials, local representatives, and those in Congress have certainly been reactionary towards the felt pressure from those among their constituents tired of their lack of resolve and initiative in the past when it comes to gun control. Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) announced on February 23 that he would enact measures opposed by the NRA—a noticeable change from his historical support of and from the NRA. Other governors and representatives like Gov. Phil Murphy (R-NJ), Gov. Phil Scott (R-VA), and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) have come out in support of tighter gun laws in response to the Parkland shooting.
Throughout the coverage of the shooting and its aftermath, there has been the constant claim that this time feels different, and this is perhaps due to the efforts and persistence of students and activists in demanding action from their government officials. Various protests and marches have already been scheduled for March, including the National School Walkout and the March for Our Lives.
Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, addressed fellow protesters on the terrace of the Broward County federal courthouse the Saturday following the shooting. “If the president wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy and how it should have never happened and maintain telling us that nothing is going to be done about it, I’m going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association,” she stated. “To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you! If you actively do nothing, people will continue to end up dead.”
David Hogg, another survivor of the shooting, was interviewed on CNN and, when asked if he had a message for the government, said, “What we really need is action. We say, “Yes, we’re going to do this, thoughts and prayers,” but what we need more than that is action. Please, this is the eighteenth one this year. That’s unacceptable. We’re children. You guys are the adults. You need to take some action and play a role. Work together, come over your politics, and get something done.”
There is an energy and drive that is undeniable in those affected and outraged by the Parkland shooting. However, for actual difference to be made, representatives need to feel consistently politically and morally pressured to take a stance and back the legislation that their constituents are calling for, and this can only occur if those constituents are persistent and tireless in demanding it. As the American public has seen with previous shootings, complacency is the death of change. The momentum that has accumulated cannot be allowed to recede back into the depths of bureaucracy and partisanship, because otherwise, we will unquestionably continue to suffer from these wounds for a long time to come.
The image featured in this article is used under the Creative Commons license. The original can be found here.
Mariana Paez is a second-year Economics and Political Science double-major, interested in journalism, economic reform, social issues, and international development. This past summer, she worked at Voto Latino, a D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for voter education and registration, immigrant rights, and social justice. In her free time, she enjoys exploring the city with friends, seeing movies at Doc Films, and going to cafes.