The latest mass killing, in Parkland, Fla., may have unleashed a new political force in our country, though only time will tell. That force is the teenagers of America, who go to school each day hoping that their school won’t be in the headlines because of another random act of gun violence. The last, best hope for reasonable gun control may rest in the voices and the energy of our younger generation, because the older one has failed them miserably.
Each day we’re exposed to a new set of polling statistics that show that Americans favor bans on assault weapons by enormous margins. Poll after poll shows that the public wants comprehensive background checks, by similar margins. Once the figures are announced, it then becomes just another polling story, and within days it fades away as a topic of discussion.
Under the Constitution, the laws of this country are to be created by acts of Congress. But the worst-kept secret in Washington is that many members of Congress are wholly owned subsidiaries of the National Rifle Association. According to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, the NRA spent $203.2 million between 1998 and 2017 funding candidates, defeating gun-control advocates and lobbying to protect gun manufacturers.
To think that Congress is prepared to make any meaningful changes in gun laws is a waste of time and energy. In 2016, 15 members of the U.S. Senate were re-elected to new six-year terms. All of them had voted against any legislation that would tighten up our gun laws. The idea that voters would rebuff them for doing so was a joke. Some optimists are pointing to recent statements by President Trump favoring better background checks and a ban on bump stocks, which can turn a simple rifle into a mass killing machine. For the moment Trump is paying attention because it looks good, but in the end, he’ll make believe gun legislation is no longer an issue.
It remains to be seen whether a president who was supported by the NRA and who pledged his undying support to the organization will in the end do anything other than pay lip service to the aroused public, hoping that its voices will fade away soon, as they have in the past. If it turns out that bump stocks can be banned only by a federal law, don’t count on some of your brave representatives doing the right thing and banning their use.
You’d think that the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School would motivate the Florida legislature to act to tighten background checks. You can forget about that state’s elected officials doing anything. Florida is so tied to the gun lobby that there is a law there stating that a pediatrician may not ask members of a family whether they have a gun in the house.
As a first step in a sincere effort to bring about change, more than 100 survivors of the school shooting traveled last week to the capitol in Tallahassee to confront their state representatives. There wasn’t any expectation that they would sway people who live off NRA campaign funds, but that’s how movements start. The next major step is a planned national day of youth protest in Washington and throughout the country to keep the gun issue alive. As parents, we have learned that young people can be persistent, and this movement may or may not be the beginning of a new wave of anger against the politically crippled members of Congress.
If you like statistics, here’s a very interesting one: In 2020, the next year we’ll elect a president, 3.8 million students will be eligible to vote for the first time. Combined with the millennials who are beginning to show signs of aroused interest, this groups could be a powerful force for change on gun control and other quality-of-life issues.
I have to believe that after the latest school shooting, there are many parents who hug their children a little tighter each day before they leave for school. The prophet Isaiah predicted, “A little child shall lead them.” Perhaps the children of today will lead us to a more enlightened and safer country.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.