The debate in Washington over guns right now is all over the map. On an issue where the ideological divide is generally very clear, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting has redrawn the lines, prompted Republicans to offer gun reform proposals, and recalibrated the discussion for policymakers, interest groups, and the general public. I wouldn’t say the NRA is on the run right now, but after laying low in the immediate aftermath of the shooting they’ve stepped up their defensive posture, and this time they seem even more desperate than usual.
The Valentine’s Day shooting in Parkland, Florida, took the lives of 17 students and teachers. There were several warning signs that the alleged shooter was unstable and planning an attack; some of those signs were missed, and some were not acted on. The one uncontested fact that needs to remain the focus, however, is that the shooter used an assault rifle, an AR-15 meant for the battlefield, to murder people.
The poise, courage, and determination shown by the articulate high school students who survived the shooting is what makes this one different. They’re not afraid. They’ve taken on elected officials, policymakers, the news media, internet trolls, and the NRA itself. They have real time video footage of what was happening around them during the shooting. They can describe in vivid detail watching their friends’ lives end in an explosion of bullets. And they can stand on national television and demand that members of Congress give up their NRA contributions. Florida Senator Marco Rubio often becomes tongue-tied when called out by constituents, but never like he did when shooting survivor Cameron Kasky shamed him point-blank during the CNN town hall last week.
The clear message of the students, however, stands in stark contrast to what’s coming from elected officials. Republicans, beholden to their A-plus NRA ratings in an election year that has already been unpredictable, are offering gun reform proposals that seem substantial, but are really just working around the margins. Florida Governor Rick Scott, term-limited this year and expected to run against Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, offered a package of reforms that included raising the age to own a gun from 18 to 21, but didn’t address an assault weapons ban. (It’s worth noting that the Las Vegas shooter who killed 58 people last fall was 64 years old, so the age restriction would not have mattered — but the gun would have.)
Scott also didn’t propose to arm teachers, something President Trump and many other Republicans support. But the president has been, typically, all over the map on his other suggestions. For instance, he said he wants to raise the age limit to buy some guns from 18 to 21, but the NRA opposes that so Trump is now backing away from the proposal. Trump says he wants comprehensive background checks, but the House bill he likes doesn’t close the gun show loophole.
It’s encouraging that we’re having this national conversation about gun reform, even though it was borne from tragedy. And although this debate feels different, it still comes down to common sense versus the NRA. We know we should ban assault weapons, because their only purpose is to kill people — no one hunts with an AR-15. We know we need a ban on large capacity magazines that enable shooters to have unlimited numbers of bullets at their disposal. We know we need a comprehensive background check system that covers every sale, including gun shows. These are common sense solutions to America’s gun violence problem, supported by Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, and they’re all opposed by the NRA.
The Parkland shooting has been an impetus for gun reform. We won’t get the total solution we need, but rather steps in the right direction. The NRA’s all-or-nothing approach may finally be failing them, and while they often act like a toddler having a tantrum, this time it won’t matter if they hold their breath until they turn blue.
Jason Lindsay is founder and executive director of Pride Fund to End Gun Violence. He also served for 14 years in the U.S. Army Reserve and was deployed to Iraq in 2003. To learn more about Pride Fund, visit PrideFund.org.
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