Accountability to the public or loyalty to the NRA

By Dorothy Inman-Johnson

Special to the Outlook 

Watching the March for our Lives in DC and major cities around the country on TV made me proud to know our future is in good hands with today’s youth. In just a little over a month, students from Stoneman Douglas High turned their grief over the devastating massacre at their school into a national movement for change. In doing so, they have become a force to be reckoned with for the National Rifle Association. NRA ads attacking the Parkland students as puppets of the Democratic Party and videos declaring “If their friends hadn’t died, no one would know their names” are proof that the adults leaders of the NRA are running scared from these smart and determined teenagers. It is because of the fierce courage, ingenuity, and intelligence of these children that some politicians who have been held hostage to this organization for decades finally have the backbone to at least consider sensible gun restrictions. It is clear to anyone who has been paying attention to the poise and eloquence of these student survivors that the #neveragain campaign, started within days of the massacre at their school, resulted from their grief and determination to prevent this happening again.

While the youth campaign has ignited international support, the NRA has suffered a loss in its favorability rating. The rating dropped from 45 percent to 33 percent after the student campaign, highly critical of its choke hold on politicians, began. Under pressure from these student leaders during a rally at the Florida Capitol, Florida Governor Scott and some legislators with an A rating from the NRA broke with the organization and approved a gun law in the 2018 legislative session requiring a 3-day waiting period for gun purchases, no gun sales for anyone under 21 years of age, a ban on bump stocks, and more money for school security. This was the first time the Florida Legislature passed a law restricting instead of expanding gun rights in decades. The NRA is in shock after losing its grip on the Governor and has filed a lawsuit. None of this would have happened without the Parkland student leaders and the #neveragain campaign.

However, the public should have more trust in candidates and elected officials who do not wait for horrific acts of gun violence to force them to do the right thing. Senator Marco Rubio thought this mass shooting would be like all the others before, in which he could simply express his condolences and do nothing to prevent an atrocity of that type happening again, when he appeared at the town hall in Parkland to stubbornly defend the NRA’s position that no change was needed in Florida’s gun laws. He must have been quite surprised, therefore, when his favorability rating dropped 8 percentage points to 38 percent  soon after. Yet cable news reporters keep asking why anyone expects a different response from lawmakers than their response to Newtown, the Charleston Church shooting, the Pulse Night Club, or Las Vegas. The difference is Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, Alex Wind, Jaclyn Corin, and the other teen leaders who vowed to make sure this would never happen again. These are extremely intelligent, articulate, laser focused teenagers on a mission to save other schools and Americans from the horrors they experienced on Feb. 14. Further, in an age of advanced technology and social media, they knew how to effectively use these tools to turn their city’s grief into a national movement that brought over 800,000 marchers to Washington DC; and mobilized marches and support in major cities throughout the U.S. and internationally.

They have declared that the March for Our Lives is just the beginning. They have already begun voter registration drives in anticipation of preparing many new 18-year-old residents to vote for the first time in the November 2018 Mid-Term Election to achieve their goal of electing leaders more accountable to the public than to the NRA. They have vowed not to stop until their goals of universal, comprehensive background checks are approved and military-style weapons are banned by Congress. They are determined to vote politicians out of office who insist on putting loyalty to the NRA above protecting the lives of Americans. Their #neveragain campaign has, also, mobilized survivors, their families, and gun control advocates throughout the country with a renewed fervor for change.

Yes, this time seems different. Nothing scares politicians more than millions of votes amassed against them. And a generation of new, young voters determined to change the laws, even if it means changing the politician, might just be powerful enough to break the NRA’s grip on Congress when over 90 percent of Americans favor common sense gun control.

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