Director of Guns Down America, an organization advocating for fewer guns in the United States.
Something is different about last week's high school shooting in Parkland, Fla.: Americans across the country are vocally demanding that we move toward a world with fewer guns.
There is one notable person who hasn't yet accepted that reality – U.S. President Donald Trump. At least that seems to be the case if we are to judge him by the "listening session" he held with students and parents at the White House this week.
The image of the note card he clutched during the event – which reminded Mr. Trump to say things such as "I hear you" and asking questions such as "What can we do to help you feel safe?" – quickly went viral. But nowhere on his card was anything that would amount to a real commitment to change our gun laws.
Sadly, Parkland was not the first U.S. school shooting this year. Far from it.
For that reason, the gun lobby and its allies have a carefully constructed playbook after mass shootings. Offer "thoughts and prayers" via social media. And then, when anger and outrage naturally build, the elected officials who are bought and paid for with the National Rifle Association's blood money will argue that it's too soon to talk about gun-violence prevention and that none of the solutions offered could prevent every gun crime.
Paul Ryan, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, offered a textbook example of the play last week, telling a Florida woman that he "didn't want to talk politics," while holding a campaign fundraiser less than an hour's drive from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the site of the shooting.
What is different, this time, has been the reaction from the young teenage survivors: They're organizing in mass numbers and confronting the NRA and the politicians the organization supports. Students started speaking out during the shooting – on their own social-media channels. One young journalist even conducted interviews while the shooter was still active. They've taken part in round after round of national media interviews. This week, thousands of students at a nearby high school walked out of class and walked the 19 kilometres to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to support their fellow students and call for stronger gun laws. Thousands of students attended a CNN town hall on gun violence and bravely confronted Senator Marco Rubio – who earned an A+ grade from the NRA – for refusing to give up the organization's contributions and place the lives of his constituents ahead of his political ambitions.
There is more to come. Students around the country are at work planning grassroots events on March 14, March 24 and April 20. And we're already seeing signs the students are having an impact. A prominent Republican donor said he would no longer support candidates unless they agreed to support a ban on assault weapons. A Republican governor criticized his party and questioned the need for assault weapons.
Mr. Trump did the bare minimum this week, as well, opening the door a crack by announcing he would take action to regulate "bump stocks," which are devices that can convert semi-automatics into weapons that function like full automatics. He also said he'd explore raising the gun-purchase age, which would be a welcome step forward.
Fortunately, the American people are ready for bold action. Quinnipiac, one of the first national pollsters to release a poll on gun violence, found that support for stricter gun control measures has hit a 10-year high. But tapping into that support means changing the conversation around guns. Limiting firearm ownership is not enough. Expanding background checks is not enough. To truly create a world where students are able to go to school without the fear of gun violence erupting in the classroom, we must go after the guns themselves.
Our polling on the issue of gun violence shows that a strong majority of Americans support much stronger gun-violence prevention measures than have been considered in Congress in recent years.
Consider that a 61-per-cent majority of Americans believe that guns should be harder to get. Seventy-eight per cent – including 65 per cent who live in gun households – support creating a government buy-back program for assault weapons. Seventy-six percent would support a ban on military-style weapons. Eighty-eight per cent would like to require gun licences for all gun owners.
The reality, and what the gun lobby will never say, is that gun laws work. States with stronger gun laws have lower rates of gun deaths. Similarly, those countries with stronger gun laws (such as Canada) also have lower rates of gun violence than the United States.
A quote – probably apocryphal – attributed to Winston Churchill says, "Americans will always do the right thing after exhausting the alternatives."
The alternatives have long been exhausted. If we change the debate and go after the guns, we can create lasting political change.