The big question for many has been: Might the passion and the engagement of all these young people be enough to change that script?
There are already signs of action in statehouses across the nation, with lawmakers considering a variety of measures. In Florida, the legislature in March passed a gun control bill that raises the minimum age to purchase any gun to 21, creates a three-day waiting period for gun purchases, bans bump stocks,* provides money for school security and mental health services, and creates a voluntary program to arm some school personnel. The new law does not include an assault weapons ban, tighter background checks, and other changes sought by student activists. Other states, including Wyoming, Idaho, and Virginia, were considering expanding gun rights, sometimes citing the Parkland shooting as a motivating factor. Whether Congress takes any action is another question (see “A Divided Nation,” below).
Matt Bennett, a founder of Third Way, a center-left advocacy group in Washington, D.C., is a longtime watcher of gun debates that have failed to lead to compromise on this issue, which stirs passion on both sides. He thinks this time might be different.
“What has changed . . . is the kids and the extraordinary, galvanizing force they have become,” Bennett says. “No one knows when we are going to hit a tipping point on this issue. We may have hit it—we don’t know. But if we did, it’s because of them.”
Many people, however, while deeply concerned about school shootings, aren’t convinced that the answer is more restrictions on guns.
“Of course we want to listen to these kids,” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said after meeting with students, “but we also want to make sure that we protect people’s due process rights and legal constitutional rights while making sure that people who should not get guns don’t get them.”