One year ago Thursday, as images of frightened children fleeing the scene of a gun massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School wracked our nation, the initial reaction was hopelessness.
The 17 fatalities in Parkland, Florida, capped an unprecedented five-month epidemic of mass shootings that included 26 deaths at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and 58 dead and more than 500 seriously injured on the Las Vegas Strip.
But the hopelessness, so quick to descend, did not last. The student survivors of Parkland, whose social media posts and videos went viral as the violence unfolded, reacted with as much fury as sadness to their tragedy. They resolved to rally the nation toward change, and this time the movement outlasted the news cycle.
Students spoke up
At a rally after the shooting, one survivor, Emma Gonzalez, said, “We call B.S.!” to the adults who said nothing could be done to stem the killings. Classmate David Hogg begged the crowd to “Get out there and vote!” There was a lie-in at the White House and student walkouts across the country and the March For Our Lives in Washington.
And a year later, thankfully, there has been change.
There have been about half as many deaths in mass shootings in the year since Parkland as there were in the year it capped. There also have been advances in the laws that can curtail mass shootings, and in the tone in which such laws and shootings are debated.
At least 67 new gun laws were enacted last year in 26 states and Washington. They included more background checks, bans on bump stocks and large-capacity ammunition magazines and forfeiture of guns by owners accused of domestic violence or known to suffer from mental illness.
Here in New York, where gun laws already were among the strictest in the nation, new restrictions make it easier to remove guns from domestic abusers, increase to 30 days the time for background checks to be run before buyers get guns by default, ban bump stocks that let weapons fire like machine guns, and give police, family members and some school officials the right to petition a court to temporarily remove guns from dangerous individuals.
Nothing concrete from Congress
It’s still very hard to get gun restrictions through Congress, but the conversation is changing. At least 17 newly elected House members back stricter gun laws, and more than two-dozen House members backed by the National Rifle Association were defeated. The NRA itself is bedeviled by bad press from both mass shootings and investigations of its links to Russians seeking to influence the 2016 election. Polls show the NRA losing support as gun restrictions gain it. President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning bump stocks. Legislation mandating background checks for any gun sale advanced out of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and will likely pass in that chamber. It probably won’t pass in the Senate, but even there, gun restrictions are getting new attention.
It would have been easy on the day of the Parkland shootings to think a new normal of mass violence had arrived. Instead, a new era of activism and change began, and a new anniversary was created that must be marked every year by a renewed fight against gun violence and for a safe nation.