The Parkland shooting unfolded with a grim familiarity. News alerts that shots had been fired at a Florida high school quickly gave way to reports of multiple casualties and then a final, horrible number: 17 dead, students and teachers. Republicans offered their thoughts and prayers as ambulances pulled away from the school, and they also warned against any “knee-jerk” reactions to the killings, in the words of House Speaker Paul Ryan.
But then something rare happened: The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High got angry and declared war on inaction. “Every single person up here today, all these people, should be at home grieving. But instead we are up here standing together, because if all our government and president can do is send ‘thoughts and prayers,’ then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see,” said student Emma Gonzalez at a rally, speaking through her tears and while still holding notes for her AP Government class. “Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have ever been done to prevent this—we call BS.” Video of her speech quickly went viral, and “We call BS” became a new rallying cry for the gun-control movement. In short order, plans came together for a nationwide student walkout and a march on Washington.
Fatalism about what these young people—and the larger gun-control movement—can achieve is unwarranted and self-reinforcing. Last November in Virginia, the National Rifle Association backed 13 State House candidates in competitive races and Republican Ed Gillespie for governor. Twelve of those candidates lost (the 13th won on a coin toss), and Gillespie got trounced. At the state and local levels, gun-control advocates have been able to pass measures that Congress has failed to enact, like assault-weapons bans and expanded background checks. It’s worth remembering that the movement didn’t really exist in its current form before the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012. Most of the major gun-control groups today were formed in response to that shooting, and Democrats rarely advocated for gun control in the decades prior to that. Given time, this movement can grow—and win—if it has confidence in itself and its arguments.
That’s not to discount the immediate limits of our ossified political system, especially with Donald Trump in the White House after getting over $30 million from the NRA. Trump will never sign significant gun-control legislation, and a Congress that couldn’t even ban bump stocks after the Las Vegas massacre won’t pass it anyway. But as the movement works to elect a different Congress and president, there’s another thing it can do. It can go after the one thing that gun manufacturers value above all else, including human life: money.