A couple of brave kids to change the world
In case you’ve missed the rest of the world’s news amid Turkey’s busy agenda, something big is happening in the United States. The mass murder of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day has reignited the fierce debate over gun control. This time, however, Parkland seems to have become a tipping point for Americans; you can tell something is different.
The protests led by student survivors have evolved into a nationwide campaign thanks to the teens’ savvy use of social media. Within a short period of time, messages demanding stronger restrictions on gun ownership have spread virally on Twitter, Facebook and conventional media outlets, creating a snowball effect. Different groups of people — victims’ families, students, gun control activists, celebrities and others — have all united to prevent future attacks.
As in previous shooting incidents, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has been the focus of renewed national attention since the group opposes any legislation to restrict gun ownership. According to the World Health Organization, the U.S. has one of the highest rates of death by firearms, and the number of public mass shootings in America is higher than in any other country in the world.
Federal law currently prohibits anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing a handgun from a licensed dealer, but adults 18 or older are allowed to buy rifles, such as the AR-15 rifle that the accused gunman, 19-year old Nikolas Cruz, used in the shooting.
Media campaigns and anti-gun rallies have often been regarded as healthy channels for emotional release, even as they failed to produce any concrete policy changes. What is striking about this recent student-led uprising is that the movement has succeeded in exerting considerable pressure on companies to sever ties with the NRA. Students have also been questioning the donations that members of Congress have received from the NRA, arguing that these funds dissuade legislators from actively responding to gun violence.
Multiple companies have already announced the end of their alliance with the NRA, producing a domino effect. The First National Bank of Omaha has canceled its NRA visa card, while Delta and United Airlines, along with several car rental companies, have canceled discounts for NRA members. Insurance broker Lockton Affinity also announced that it would no longer sell NRA-endorsed policies.
While the list is growing, activists have been pushing FedEx and Amazon to get on board. Recently, Walmart said it would raise the age for purchase of firearms and ammunition from 18 to 21. Dick’s Sporting Goods, a U.S. retailer of guns and other supplies, also decided to stop selling assault rifles and high-capacity magazines after it was found out that Cruz had bought a gun from them, albeit not the one used in Parkland.
The chain of developments gives us hope that something might happen on the policy front as well.
To the surprise of many Republican lawmakers — who are known as staunch defenders of the Second Amendment — U.S. President Donald Trump asserted that he would support comprehensive gun legislation that would not only strengthen the enforcement of existing laws but also expand background checks for people who purchase arms at gun shows or online.
Congress is currently working on a bill that would fix the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the system that gun sellers use to verify if someone is eligible to buy a gun. Lawmakers have also suggested a ban on bump stocks, a device that converts a semiautomatic weapon into a fully automatic one, after it was used in a massacre in Las Vegas last fall.
It is too soon to tell if America’s newest heroes will be victorious against the gun lobby. It is not easy to change gun control overnight in a country in which gun ownership is so deeply embedded in society. But if they do, they would not only prove the power of solidarity but also the significance of social media in mobilizing civil society, becoming an inspiration for those who want to do something other than complain — especially when certain interests hinder politicians from acting on serious issues.
As these brave kids march on Washington on March 24, the eyes of the world will be upon them.