Marjory Stoneman Douglas High students returned last week to their Parkland, Fla., campus to be remembered forever as the site where 17 students and teachers died. But will that shooting spree also be memorialized as the catalyst for effective gun control action in Washington, Illinois and elsewhere? Is this the moment when vocal high school students inspire their generation to demand change — and refuse to back down or lose heart?
We hope so. That hope is tinted by reality: Previously, Americans’ anger over such shootings burned hot but fizzled. Lawmakers play for time and eventually bury gun-control proposals.
This time could be different. Why so? Because as we write:
Illinois lawmakers have passed or are poised to pass a series of measures, many of which we support, to tighten gun laws. Those include a ban on bump stocks that turn semi-automatic rifles into machine gun-style weapons and a limit on high-capacity magazine clips.
President Donald Trump is jawboning Congress to send him “one terrific bill” on gun safety, including stronger background checks and restrictions based on age and mental health.
Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, and Dick’s Sporting Goods no longer will sell guns to people under 21. Both also are imposing new restrictions on ammunition sales. Company execs didn’t need a new law. They needed this: “When we saw what the kids were going through and the grief of the parents and the kids who were killed in Parkland, we felt we needed to do something,” Dick’s Chairman and CEO Ed Stack told ABC News. Who’s next?
Several major corporations, including MetLife, Hertz and Delta Air Lines, have cut ties with the National Rifle Association.
Students plan demonstrations and marches in Washington and across the nation.
Today, arguably more than ever, Americans understand that gun violence is a public health epidemic killing innocent people, just the way a virus does.
This threat demands an urgent national response. Congress, start by assembling public health experts into a Manhattan Project-style effort to pinpoint the best ways to curtail this epidemic. Why isn’t there more research into possible solutions? One reason, The Atlantic reports, is a 1996 Congressional amendment that barred the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using money to “advocate or promote gun control.” The amendment, sponsored by the late GOP Rep. Jay Dickey of Arkansas, has exerted a chilling effect for decades.
Six years ago, Dickey, by then retired from Congress, co-authored a Washington Post op-ed that revealed a change of heart. The U.S. government was spending $240 million a year on traffic safety research but almost nothing on firearms safety research, the authors wrote: “Most politicians fear talking about guns almost as much as they would being confronted by one, but these fears are senseless. We must learn what we can do to save lives. It is like the answer to the question ‘When is the best time to plant a tree?’ The best time to start was 20 years ago; the second-best time is now.”
That “now” was in 2012. Nothing happened. How about this now?
— Chicago Tribune