- Lois Beckettsenior reporter at The Guardian covering gun policy.
It’s been one year since the devastating massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School—the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that galvanized the nation to take action against gun violence and turned a generation of young people into activists. On February 14, 2018, a former student armed with a semiautomatic AR-15 entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and opened fire, gunning down 17 students, staff and teachers in just three minutes. It was one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. Students who survived the massacre quickly came to national prominence as leading activists for gun control. We speak with Lois Beckett, senior reporter at The Guardian covering gun policy. Her latest piece is titled “'We can't let fear consume us’: why Parkland activists won’t give up.”
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Today marks the 1-year anniversary of the devastating massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that galvanized the nation to take action against gun violence and turned a generation of young people into activists. On February 14th, 2018, a former student armed with a semiautomatic AR-15 entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and opened fire, gunning down 17 students, staff and teachers in just three minutes. It was one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.
Students who survived the massacre quickly came to national prominence as leading activists for gun control. This is Parkland shooting survivor Emma González speaking soon after the shooting in a speech that riveted the nation.
EMMA GONZÁLEZ: If the president wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy and how it should never have happened, and maintains telling us how nothing is going to be done about it, I’m going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association. … It doesn’t matter, because I already know: $30 million! And divided by the number of gunshot victims in the United States in the one-and-one-half months in 2018 alone, that comes out to being $5,800. Is that how much these people are worth to you, Trump? … To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you.
AMY GOODMAN: “Never again” became a rallying cry that mobilized young people around the United States to advocate for gun control. In March, the Parkland survivors, the high school students, led the historic March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., where almost 800,000 people, mainly teenagers, gathered to decry the power of the NRA and the epidemic of gun violence in the United States. In June, they launched a 2-month national Road to Change bus tour, registering young people to vote and encouraging them to support gun control legislation. The tour ended in Newtown, Connecticut, the site of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting massacre. And in November, the March for Our Lives organization mobilized the youth vote nationwide for the midterm elections and nearly defeated pro-gun candidates in the Parkland students’ home state of Florida. Despite this, the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature is now pushing to ease gun legislation enacted after the Parkland shooting.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: In Washington, D.C., Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee advanced a pair of bills that would expand federal background checks for firearm purchases. It would be the first new gun control legislation in years. Democrats voted 23 to 15, along party lines, in favor of the bills—among them, Georgia freshman Congressman Lucy McBath, whose 17-year-old son Jordan Davis was shot dead in 2012 at a Florida gas station. The legislation will head to a vote in the full House of Representatives, but Republican leaders have said it will be dead on arrival in the Senate.
AMY GOODMAN: Nearly 1,200 children have died from gun violence in the year since the Parkland shooting here in the United States. That’s three to four a day.
For more, we’re joined by Lois Beckett, senior reporter at The Guardian covering gun policy, her most recent article headlined “'We can't let fear consume us’: why Parkland activists won’t give up.”
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Lois. There’s so much to talk about here. What has happened in this last year, and the significance of the activism of Emma González and all of the surviving students that started speaking out less than a week, days after, within a day of the massacre at the Parkland high school?
LOIS BECKETT: It’s been really astonishing to watch these kids over the past year. They spoke out so powerfully at the beginning. But after that, they just didn’t stop. They kept going. They kept working straight through the midterm elections.
And what’s been so interesting about their activism is what they started with was media attention, social media virality, other students across the country holding walkouts to protest what was happening and government inaction, but they’re turning what was viral fame and media attention into the most old-fashioned and basic kind of political power: turnout. And they were able to help contribute to a historic increase in youth voter turnout in the midterm elections. It jumped 10 percentage points, from about 21 percent the last round of midterms to 31 percent now. Still not good enough—the kids want to increase it even more. But that is the kind of power that the National Rifle Association has had for a long time. They have delivered voters to the polls.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Lois, can you say a little about how they’ve been organizing already in preparation for the 2020 presidential election?
LOIS BECKETT: You know, in talking to some of the leaders of this movement, I asked them, “Are you going to take any rest? You’ve been going pretty hard at it this year.” And I have never seen teenagers more exhausted than Emma González was on the day before the midterm elections. But they are not. They took, you know, a couple weeks off, maybe, in December, rested a little bit, but they’re already organizing to do more voter registration and turnout for 2020.
So, the March for Our Lives already has nearly 200 chapters nationwide. They want to double that in the next year. They are starting to train eight regional organizers. And what’s so astonishing is that these are not just kids from Parkland who are working on this. The students have connected with young gun violence prevention advocates all across the country, some inspired by the Parkland shooting, some who had been working on this issue long beforehand. And they are building a deep bench of young political talent across the entire country.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the student writing project Since Parkland, high school students covering what’s taking place?
LOIS BECKETT: Yes. So, there have been a lot of really impressive works of journalism. One that was released earlier this week is The Trace and McClatchy brought together 200 high school journalists to tell the stories of every single kid who was killed with a gun since Parkland, nearly 1,200 kids, and that doesn’t count any of the youth gun suicides. And so, all of those stories are now on SinceParkland.org. And it’s just an astonishing and really difficult read, but telling each of the stories and reminding the country that we don’t have just a mass shooting or a school shooting problem, that more than 95 percent of the kids who die in America from guns die outside of school, and that 1,200—there are solutions that we need for all of those 1,200.
AMY GOODMAN: In September, Democracy Now! spoke to Fred Guttenberg, father of Parkland shooting victim Jaime. He spoke about how his life forever changed after Parkland.
FRED GUTTENBERG: Unfortunately, since the day my daughter was murdered, my life flipped. And I don’t get my daughter back, but I’ve become an advocate for doing something about the issue of guns in our society, so that I don’t end up being a dad who goes year after year to visit other parents of mass shootings. And so this is all that I do now, anything I can. I meet with legislators. And for me, this is not a partisan issue. Gun safety is not partisan. The responses are sometimes partisan, but I’ll talk to anybody about this who’s willing to listen and consider my point of view.
AMY GOODMAN: And I think of Manny Oliver, who lost his son on Valentine’s Day, describing to us, in the Democracy Now! studios, that his son wanted him to get flowers for his girlfriend, and Manny went off to get them, brought them to his son, and he asked his son to text him after he gave his girlfriend the flowers. And that’s why he brings a symbol and paints—he’s a painter of flowers, everywhere he goes. Lois Beckett, can you talk about what’s happened in terms of gun legislation across this country in this last year?
LOIS BECKETT: So, on the congressional level, there has been a little bit of progress. The new Democratic-controlled House of Representatives has introduced and advanced a much-stronger-than-ever-before bill to expand background checks on gun sales. This has been the single top priority of gun control advocates in this country since the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, and one of the first actions of this new Democratic House was to introduce that bill. It moved forward out of the House Judiciary Committee yesterday. So that is a small step, but in the United States, where, after the Pulse shooting in Orlando, Democratic legislators had to stage a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives, pushing, ultimately in vain, just for a discussion and a debate on gun laws, having one of these bills pass the House will be a huge victory. Unfortunately, as you mentioned before, this background check legislation is likely to be blocked by the Senate.
But, as always, just because there’s no action in Washington doesn’t mean that there’s no action nationwide. Across the United States in the past year, at least 67 gun control and gun violence prevention bills have passed in state legislatures, all kinds of different initiatives here. There have been funding bills for urban gun violence prevention. There have been bills to raise the age for access, for semiautomatic rifles, domestic violence bills. And most importantly, eight states have passed extreme risk protection orders, one of the most evidence-based, bipartisan kinds of legislation to give law enforcement or families a way to temporarily remove guns from someone who seems at risk of hurting themselves or other people.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Lois, can you talk specifically about what’s been happening in Parkland, Florida, one year after the shooting, where lawmakers are renewing their push to arm teachers?
LOIS BECKETT: In Florida, especially after this election cycle, where Republicans won key races in the Parkland students’ home state, there has been a push to try to tear back some of the very moderate gun control measures that were passed after Parkland, and a continued push by some lawmakers and some parents that it would be helpful to arm teachers. This is a policy that is very divisive in Florida and nationwide. There are a lot of teachers who say that they don’t want to be armed, that that’s inappropriate. There are also parents who say that “We know that law enforcement will never arrive in time before a shooting,” and that “Wouldn’t it help to have teachers who are armed?”
In Parkland and in Marjory Stoneman Douglas itself, these debates over school safety can be incredibly traumatizing for the students. The Eagle Eye, the Parkland student newspaper, will have an article out later today, on The Guardian's website, about “hard corners,” this designation that each classroom needs to have a corner that's out of sight of the door, so it will be out of range of sight for any shooter looking in the door, and that some of the classrooms have actually had these corners outlined in paint, and there are kits in those corners to stop the bleeding. They are having “code red” drills once a month. And for students who survived a school shooting, who are still thinking about their friends being killed, this kind of intense school safety preparation can be incredibly traumatic.
AMY GOODMAN: Despite their activism, the Parkland students continue to struggle with the painful aftermath of that day. This is David Hogg, survivor of the Parkland shooting, outspoken gun control advocate.
DAVID HOGG: I’m coping with it pretty well. Well, the fact of the matter is, I’m not. No one is. Because the fact of the matter is, we didn’t lose people to gun violence. Let me reiterate: We did not lose people to gun violence. People do not lose people to gun violence. People are stolen from us from gun violence. My sister’s four friends were stolen from her on February 14th, when she was 14 years old. And I don’t want any other child in the United States or Florida to ever have to hear the unconscionable cries that many of us heard that day, that many of us went through that day, because nobody else should have to, no matter the community that they live in. So, am I coping with it? No, because we lived through something that none of us should have ever lived through in the first place.
AMY GOODMAN: That is David Hogg, as we wrap up today’s Valentine’s Day show. Yes, the massacre that took place in Parkland happened on Valentine’s Day 2018. Lois Beckett, we want to thank you for being with us, senior reporter at The Guardian covering gun policy and the far right in the United States. We’ll link to your piece, “'We can't let fear consume us’: why Parkland activists won’t give up.”
And that does it for today’s broadcast. Today is the 201st birthday of Frederick Douglass. Tomorrow we’ll be broadcasting from Washington, speaking to the great-great-great-grandson of Frederick Douglass, Kenneth Morris, as well as the scholar Ibram X. Kendi. We’ll be in Washington tonight at the Library of Congress for an event honoring Frederick Douglass.
A very happy belated birthday to Brendan Allen!
That does it for the show. Democracy Now! currently accepting applications for a full-time, 1-year paid news production fellowship. Go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.