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“45K People Died from Gun Violence on Your Watch”: Parkland Survivors Demand More Action from Biden

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Image Credit: Change the Ref

Survivors and families of the victims of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, have launched a new online tool called the “Shock Market” to track the occurrence of U.S. gun violence. This comes as Manuel Oliver, the father of 17-year-old victim Joaquin “Guac” Oliver, was arrested during a peaceful protest demanding the Biden administration take action to curb gun violence. “Very little has changed since the last four years,” says Oliver. We also speak with David Hogg, survivor of the Parkland school massacre and a founder and board member of March for Our Lives. Hogg says President Biden is failing on gun policy and risks losing the Senate for another decade if inaction persists.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

The families of nine victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre have reached a settlement with the gun manufacturer Remington for $73 million. It’s unprecedented, the first time a gunmaker has been held responsible for a mass shooting in the United States. The Sandy Hook massacre claimed the lives of 20 schoolchildren and six educators.

This week also marks four years since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. On February 14, 2018, Valentine’s Day, a 19-year-old gunman attacked, opened fire with an AR-15-style rifle and fatally shot 14 students and three staff members over a span of seven minutes.

On Monday, the father of one of the massacre victims was arrested during a peaceful protest demanding the Biden administration take action to curb gun violence. Manuel Oliver, the father of 17-year-old Parkland shooting victim Joaquin “Guac” Oliver, climbed a 150-foot-high construction crane and unfurled a banner that displayed a picture of his son and a message to President Biden reading, “45,000 people died from gun violence on your watch.”

Manny Oliver’s group Change the Ref has also joined with youth-led gun control groups to launch an online tool called the “Shock Market” to track U.S. gun violence. According to the site, there have been nearly 48,000 gun deaths and nearly 43,000 gun injuries since Biden took office last January. This is Manuel Oliver in a video made to launch the Shock Market website.

MANUEL OLIVER: There is an explosive market to watch in America with numbers trending off the charts and forecasts that have no end in sight. And thanks to a lack of action from Congress and a lack of urgency from the White House, this is what it looked like after President Biden’s first year. We call it the Shock Market. And as the father of Joaquin Oliver, who was murdered four years ago in the Parkland shooting, President Biden, I call this unacceptable. The administration keeps an eye on a lot of numbers and indicators, so let’s remind them that when these go up, lives come crashing down. No one should have to experience gun violence like my family did.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Manny Oliver, the father of 17-year-old Parkland shooting victim Guac Oliver. He joins us now along with David Hogg, who survived the Parkland school massacre. At the time, he was just 17. He’s a founder and board member of March for Our Lives. He’s joining us from Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he’s a student at Harvard University.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Manny Oliver, thanks so much for joining us. I know you’re at the airport, the Ronald Reagan International Airport in D.C., headed to California. Can you talk about exactly what you did on Valentine’s Day outside the White House?

MANUEL OLIVER: Thank you for having me, Amy. And, David, how are you? I love you. You know that.

We just commemorated the fourth year of the massacre of Parkland and all these painful and sadness that has been invading our family in a different way. And I tried to take advantage of a day like that one, because I knew that we will have a lot of attention, regardless. So, we decided to this time make something really impactful. I planned this action with a month in advance, at least. And yeah, it’s to show the truth. I don’t want anybody thinking that solutions are arriving, neither from a group like us or from the White House itself. Very little has changed since the last four years. Actually, we see more victims from gun violence. And I think that people should know that, understand that and be very concerned about it.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Manuel Oliver, I’d like to ask you: In terms of the decision, the court case in Sandy Hook, the precedent set of holding gun manufacturers now responsible, are you hopeful that this is going to be replicated in other cases? And also, your site is tracking gun violence in the United States, but aren’t American gun manufacturers exporting their guns all over the world? For instance, in Central America, our last segment, Honduras was one of the world centers for violence, and all of Central America is awash in U.S. guns. I’m wondering your sense of how the manufacturers will now be held more accountable.

MANUEL OLIVER: Oh, absolutely. And I wouldn’t say that I’m happy because of this, because nothing of this should be happening. I mean, in the United States, that’s like the main news, right? Gun manufacturers are being held accountable, which is a very normal thing in the country where all industries are regulated, but this one happens to have like a green light to do whatever they want. So, I am celebrating that action. I’m hoping that it’s the first of many.

AMY GOODMAN: Manny has just frozen as he sits with — speaking to us from the airport. I want to bring in David Hogg. But, David, first, I want to go to the morning after the massacre four years ago. You were speaking with CNN and said — amazingly, at that moment, keeping yourself together, considering what you survived and how many didn’t — said action was needed right away to deal with gun violence.

DAVID HOGG: What we really need is action, because we can say, yes, we’re going to do all these things, thoughts and prayers. What we need more than that is action. Please. This is the 18th one this year. That’s unacceptable. We’re children. You guys, like, are the adults. You need to take some action and play a role, work together, come over your politics and get something done.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the day after the massacre, that you had the presence of mind, David, to talk about what needs to be done in this country, given the horrific attack you had just experienced. Can you talk about from then to now, what you are calling for, what you’ve gone through? Thank you so much for joining us from school. You’re at Harvard now, a student in Cambridge.

DAVID HOGG: Yeah, you know, it’s amazing to look back at that and think about those things that have changed. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, in the couple of months after that, leading up to midterms, we changed gun laws in Florida, a deeply Republican Legislature that has a — basically, the NRA has a stranglehold over. Despite, you know, basically everybody in the establishment thinking it was impossible, we did change gun laws there. We were able to force the hand of the Florida state Legislature to get over their politics and work together to actually do something. In the time since Parkland, we passed nearly — well over 50 gun laws at the state level. We changed the Dickey Amendment so that we were able to get the CDC to study the effectiveness of gun laws at the state level, and gotten them funding. And on top of that, we have, you know, some of the most pro-gun violence prevention candidates, at least on paper, ever elected in American history. Now it’s about making them act.

And the reason — the thing that we’re calling for right now is specifically for President Biden to do even more that is within his executive power to act to address gun violence. And two of those things are creating an office, a national office of gun violence prevention, and a director of — a national director of gun violence prevention, that can work together to create a comprehensive plan to address gun violence from the federal government and not create just a piecemeal piece of legislation that’s just universal background checks and one other thing or just universal background checks, but comes up with a comprehensive plan for the federal government to address gun violence, regardless of what’s happening in the Senate.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, David, I wanted to ask you — last year, a video of Republican Congressmember Marjorie Taylor Greene heckling you on Capitol Hill emerged. She was later removed from the House Committee on Education and Labor. And in July, Congressmember Greene suggested at an Alabama fundraiser that Southerners shoot door-to-door COVID-19 vaccinators. Your reaction to this kind of language coming from elected officials?

DAVID HOGG: My reaction to it is that all of our generations need to do better. Our younger generations need to step up, but we need to learn from the mistakes of the past and understand that — you know, in the beginning, when we were starting out, I would say that we don’t have the leaders that we need to address gun violence. But I’ve realized in the time since, we do have some of the leaders, we just don’t have enough.

And unfortunately, with that type of immature, foolish, disgustingly just intolerant rhetoric and violent rhetoric that someone like Marjorie Taylor Greene perpetuates, she ends up harming our country a lot more and stops us from addressing serious challenges that are facing everyday Americans every single day, from gun violence to income inequality to people just struggling to get enough food on their table on a daily basis. When a representative like Marjorie Taylor Greene goes out there and says these outrageous and inflammatory remarks, she’s not actually helping anybody but herself and her fundraising goals. You know, when she chases after me, when I was 18 years old, and is calling me horrible things, she’s not actually working to help end gun violence. She’s not actually working to help her constituents. She’s working to help herself. And we need leaders that are selfless and not selfish. And that is exactly what Marjorie Taylor Greene is.

AMY GOODMAN: David Hogg, can you talk about the Shock Market, what you have just launched?

DAVID HOGG: Yeah. So, the ShockMarket.org is a website that tallies the number of gun deaths that have happened since President Biden took office. Unfortunately, gun violence has gotten worse over the past couple of years as a result of COVID and the massive surge in gun sales that have happened. As a result of that, when I was starting out, we had about 40,000 gun deaths a year on average in the United States, and now we’re seeing, on average, about 45,000 a year, most of which are suicides but are still, nonetheless, preventable.

And that’s part of what this website is about. It’s about realizing that, look, we cannot be just saying, you know, objectively — sorry, objectively, Joe Biden, President Biden, is better than Donald Trump is on guns. But if Trump is the bar, he’s the floor. He’s not the ceiling. And liberals and Democrats and everybody across the country needs to be demanding that every president, no matter their party, do as much as is in their power to address gun violence. And right now President Biden, frankly, is not doing that. He has done some work, but it’s the same thing like being in school. I can do half my assignment and get a D, or I can do all of my assignment and get an A. And right now President Biden is failing.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, your response to this unprecedented lawsuit, the families of Sandy Hook suing the gun company, the manufacturer, saying it advertised to people to use their weapons, ultimately the one used at Sandy Hook? Your response to this, David?

DAVID HOGG: The reality is, the way that that lawsuit ended up working out, from my understanding, was, essentially, it was very — through a very narrow lens of going after a law outlawing basically the advertisement of illegal activities in the state of Connecticut. It still left in place PLCAA, which is the law that stops individuals from being able to sue gun manufacturers, with very few exceptions. And, you know, although I obviously hope that this settlement helps bring some amount of closure to people, I think the reality is, for most people that have experienced this type of horrific violence, that the only real form of closure is these things not happening anymore, because we know that they don’t happen in basically any other high-income country. And they certainly don’t have to happen here.

So, I think the reality is that PLCAA, that law that protects gun manufacturers, is still in place. And President Biden — I actually have a video of this — at our town hall in 2019, when we were interviewing all of the presidential candidates about what they were going to do about gun violence, he said the number one thing that we could do to change gun violence and to reduce gun violence in this country would be to stand up and fight against PLCAA. And while it would require an act of Congress to do that, President Biden’s very own attorney general, Garland, has repeatedly gone out and defended PLCCA in court and while testifying in front of Congress.

And that is just one of many things that we’ve been extremely disappointed to see from Biden, because the White House, frankly, the reason why they’re doing this, and they’re not acting more or talking more about gun violence, is because they’re afraid of midterms. But I’m going to be completely honest here: If they’re doing this for purely strategic reasons, it’s pretty stupid of them, because their approval rating is already in the toilet, and they’re already going to lose the House, and they’re probably going to lose the Senate, too. And they need to act to address gun violence right now, because this is — gun violence in America is not politics. It is a matter of life and death. And we can’t wait six months or a couple more months until midterms to see how things pan out, and risk losing the House and Senate for another decade because of President Biden’s failure to act on this and calling Congress to act on it, as he said he would on the campaign trail.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, David Hogg, I want to thank you so much for being with us. David Hogg was 17 when the massacre took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, founder and board member of March for Our Lives. New project is ShockMarket.org. And thanks so much to Manuel Oliver, father of Joaquin Oliver, one of the 17 people killed at the high school four years ago on Valentine’s Day. Safe flying, Manny.

Next up, as President Biden warns Russia not to invade Ukraine, we’ll speak to a peace activist in Kyiv who’s calling on leaders in both Moscow and Washington to deescalate the tension. Stay with us.

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