by David Higham.
I admit, up to a month ago I didn’t put my best face forward all the time. Between the president’s inane tweets and the constant drumbeat of a bad news cycle, sometimes pessimism takes hold. And then the Parkland shooting overwhelmed the news waves. I went through my usual set of emotions as I have done too many times in the past – Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Pulse Nightclub, Sandy Hook, Charleston, and on and on. How can this be happening again? What kind of country are we living in? I look to the sky for answers and am met with only silence and a deepening despair.
But this time was different. The surviving students of the Stoneman Douglas High School said No More. On the TV we saw young, fresh faces, smart beyond their years, battle tested, outraged and not willing to let anyone avoid responsibility and accountability. I found myself caught up in their enthusiasm and their call for “no more bull—-” from the adults who failed miserably to protect them.
Finally, in the gun debate we had adults in the room who happened to be 17 years old and not afraid to throw out conventions to achieve sensible changes to our gun policies. I couldn’t take my eyes off the TV when the students described their emotions as they cowered in closets, held on to each other and recounted their friends and teachers who were swept up in the carnage.
Tallahassee never knew what hit it. Focusing on needed gun reforms at the state level, the Parkland students became instant advocates, public relations and legislative strategists. When the students took on the Florida legislature, you could feel the earth begin to move. What was deemed the longest of long shots – beating the NRA in a legislative battle – was now real and achievable. In a matter of weeks, the Parkland students went from reading history books in the classroom to making history that is defining the gun debate, not only in Florida but in many other state capitols and Congress.
The Florida legislation, signed into law by the governor, is no panacea. The bill does not ban assault weapons, and neither does it strengthen background checks on all gun purchases. But the Florida legislation is real progress, the first to pass the legislature in decades. It raises the minimum buying age to all guns to 21, creates a three-day waiting period for most gun purchases and gives police new powers to confiscate firearms and ammunition from people deemed to be a threat. Controversially, it allows some school staff to carry firearms on the school campus, at the discretion of local officials.
Like tossing a pebble into a pond, the Parkland students circle of influence – the ripple – will continue to grow as other communities redouble their own efforts to create sensible gun policies and more successes are achieved in the 49 other state capitols.
According to an ABC news report filed March 1, “Washington state has already passed legislation to ban the sale of bump stocks.” California, Indiana, Oregon, Connecticut and Washington state already have “red flag” policies that allows relatives or the police to ask judges to temporarily strip gun rights from those showing warning signs of violence. More than a dozen other states are considering similar measures, according to the Associated Press.
What about South Carolina? What will our Republican-led state legislature and our Republican governor do? Will they finally tighten up background checks at the very least? A SC Senate bill would do away with the so-called “Charleston loophole” by requiring a longer waiting period for a gun seller to complete a background check. Another bill pending before our Legislature would require courts to speed up the reporting of criminal convictions for background checks. These are common-sense measures that would have no effect on the gun rights of law-abiding citizens, while preventing guns from falling into the wrong hands.
I believe the ripple started by the Parkland students will not abate any time soon; in fact, I am confident it will grow into a wave on the shoulders of the Parkland students and millions of others who are joining them across the nation.
I hope the legislative success achieved in Florida is only the beginning of a national campaign for sensible gun legislation. Over 400 rallies are planned across the country on March 24 to further build grassroots advocacy. A focus of their advocacy will be to spur Congress to act on several gun measures that have been introduced, but no debate has been scheduled. As recently as March 8, the Senate Majority Leader gave no indication that he intends to bring any bills to a vote anytime soon, as the Senate turns its attention to other policy areas.
If I was a betting man, however, my money would be on the Parkland students and the national movement they started. If you were a senator up for re-election in November, would you go home and tell your voters that you didn’t do anything about gun issues?
The Horry County Democratic Party Gun Sense Committee is working with like-minded organizations to protect citizens’ 2nd Amendment rights while pushing for sensible gun safety measures, including stronger background checks. Please join us.
David Higham, a former Congressional aide, has just been named chair of the HCDP Gun Sense Committee. He and his wife Carmen live in Myrtle Beach.