One year ago today, 17 students and staff lost their lives, in many cases saving others in the process, when a teenage gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. As has happened too many times, news reports were saturated with images of crowds, mainly children and parents in this case, stunned and frightened in the aftermath of another mass shooting.
After the killings, as public political debate again brought up the idea of gun control, the prevailing attitude could be described as one of fear. Many were hesitant to talk about gun control at all, warning that it was “too soon” to bring up politics. Others immediately tried to pivot the conversation to other topics, such as mental health or absurd ideas like arming teachers, seemingly finding those narratives and approaches less dangerous than one that focused on things such as the ubiquity of AR-15s in these types of shootings.
Disturbingly, the Parkland shooting seems to have increased gun sales in the US (as did previous shootings at Sandy Hook and San Bernardino), likely driven by fear from gun enthusiasts that these events might lead to stricter gun regulation. Such fears are more driven by Republican talking points and the NRA’s hardline approach and propaganda than by actual gun control legislation, which has been rather lacking. This hesitancy to regulate firearms, however, does not only stem from Republican opposition or the NRA promoting a strict interpretation of the Second Amendment; it also comes from Democrats who are afraid of the potential pushback they may get from attempting to regulate guns – a fear that is likely overblown and fails to recognize clear majorities in favor of such stricter rules.
The one group who has emerged fearless in the aftermath of the shooting: The Parkland survivors. These teenagers, aided by parents who lost children and others who deeply want to see change, have improbably mobilized a movement for gun control and other reforms like few in recent memory. Students like Emma Gonzales, Jaclyn Corin, David Hogg, Sarah Chadwick, Cameron Kasky,Alex Wind and Mei-Ling Ho-Shing organized massive rallies and other public actions, most notably under the March for Our Lives banner. They’ve deftly utilized social media to advance their cause, which was not nearly as easy for them as adults assume. They’ve stood up to repeated personal attacks by extreme right-wing pundits and politicians (who’ve criticized everything from their appearance and sexuality to their college admissions success (spoiler: he’s going to Harvard) and refused to go off-message in the face of these provocations. And they did not limit their message to their own experience; when much of the media showed a strong preference for highlighting white victims of gun violence while ignoring black victims, the Parkland teenagers made a point to partner with student activists from places such as the South Side of Chicago.
One year later, the Parkland survivors remain brave, dedicated and active. Many politicians, including the Republican establishment in Florida, are still fearful of change and of the Parkland students themselves. On the other hand, largely because of the Parkland activism, the Democratic Party is now embracing gun control as a key issue. Democrats who now control the House of Representatives are introducing federal gun control legislation, although it will likely be stymied by the Republicans in the Senate. Even this likely roadblock, however, will not deter the Parkland activists. While all of them still deal with the trauma of that day, after surviving the horrific events of last February and navigating the harsh world of political activism for the past year, a political fight is the last thing these teenagers have to fear.