We’re Having the Gun Control Conversation, But Are Things Changing?

Student Emma Gonzales at gun violence rally

It’s been more than three weeks since the Valentine’s Day mass murder at Stoneman Douglas High School. For those families and fellow students who lost loved ones I can’t imagine time has much meaning right now, but the world is still turning, and something feels different about the conversations we’re having around protecting our children when they’re at school.

Many, particularly those on the left, have called to “have the conversation” about gun control immediately after the shooting. It’s a natural response to the many politicians, particularly on the right, who seem to delay indefinitely any substantive conversations about gun control and school safety. But I’ve learned there’s also wisdom in waiting, particularly if your views challenge the call for banning guns or seek to broaden the conversation.

In the weeks since Nikolas Cruz slaughtered 17 students and adults at a Broward County School a lot has happened.

Students and other supporters have rallied en masse at Florida’s capitol in Tallahassee, drawing national attention. Young leaders are emerging and, while they’re not getting everything they demand, they aren’t being ignored.  

Governor Rick Scott outlined a proposal to make schools safer and make guns harder to get, at least for some people. The legislature followed his lead and passed a bill that raised the minimum age for buying a rifle from 18 to 21. It would open the door for schools and districts to decide if they wanted select members of school staff (most teachers would be excluded) to go through training to carry a handgun on school campuses. It would also pave the way for new mental health programs in Florida and ban bump stocks.

Sen. Lauren Book, a Democrat representing that district, acknowledged the progress. “Do I think this bill goes far enough? No, no I don’t,” she said. “But what I disagree with more is letting the great be the enemy of the good.”

Even President Trump has voiced his support for banning bump stocks, and doing something about mental health issues. He’s also suggested arming teachers, or at least giving them the option. In Ohio, hundreds of teachers signed up for free gun classes.

During Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s visit to the school Wednesday, Stoneman Douglas students criticized her for not answering their questions, specifically on her views about arming school staff. The visit was so contentious that DeVos abruptly walked out of her own press conference.

But while the idea of arming teachers is embraced by some, it’s is deeply concerning to many others (including Governor Scott). Florida’s lawmakers pulled a provision that would have allowed for arming more teachers before passing the bill and sending it to the Governor’s desk.

It’s been three weeks since our hearts were broken, but I don’t think these issues are going away anytime soon.

On March 14, students and districts are planning for a national walkout for 17 minutes starting at 10:00 AM in each timezone to honor those killed in the massacre and protest gun violence.

Ten days later students will march on Washington D.C., an event dubbed “March for our Lives.” Despite the pressure to change gun laws, Congress appears to be flagging on Trump’s call for “comprehensive” gun control. Instead, observers have pointed out how the GOP is shifting the conversation from guns to school safety.

Personally, I haven’t heard of any politician in the majority making serious moves toward banning AR-15s outright. So while it feels different this time, and while people are definitely engaging in conversations (from thoughtful considerations to social-media shouting) it’s probably too early to tell if any of this is making a difference for kids who go to school every day under a threat of more violence.

What do you think?


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