Small victories for the Parkland kids matter–even if you don’t notice

Five of the brave and savvy Parkland kids are on the cover of Time magazine, a cover unlikely to appear in a frame on Donald Trump’s wall.

On the eve of this weekend’s March for Our Lives, a national demonstration supporting modest gun control measures, the kids are already making an impact.

In Florida, which has been an extremely congenial setting for gun rights advocates over the past two decades, government responded to the school shooting and the kids’ efforts by changing the laws….a little.

On March 9, 2018, Governor Rick Scott signed into law a bill that makes it a bit more difficult to buy a gun. The new law raises the age for legal purchase of a rifle from 18 to 21 and institutes a 3 day waiting period for most gun buyers. It also prohibits the sale of “bump stocks,” which allow a semi-automatic weapon to function more like an automatic weapon and fire multiple rounds more quickly.

Florida didn’t ban assault weapons like the semi-automatic rifle the school shooter used, nor did it ban the specific weapon, the AR-15. The state didn’t institute regulations on high capacity magazines, nor did it tighten background checks of potential buyers.  The legislative response was a compromise that, for the first time, recruited dozens of state legislators endorsed by the NRA to defy their sponsors…a little. [Sixty-seven state legislators risked their “A” ratings from the NRA.]

Far less than what the Parkland kids wanted, it was also a greater concession than gun rights supporters imagined they would have to make.

And it’s not just Florida:

The US Congress is about to pass an omnibus spending bill that deals the NRA a double-barreled defeat on small issues that are likely to escape much national attention.

First, the new spending bill deletes a provision passed by the House that allows a concealed carry permit issued by any state to be valid in every state. This would have meant that a permit issued in a state with few restrictions or checks, like Arizona, would be valid in more restrictive states, like California. The NRA supported the bill, and House conservatives are outraged that they’ve lost on it…for now.

Stopping the other side from making gains is also a victory, even if it doesn’t always feel like one.

Also important, the spending bill clarifies that a restriction on gun violence research implemented two decades ago does not restrict public health research on gun violence. In 1996, a Republican Congress passed a spending bill that prohibited the Centers for Disease Control  from promoting restrictions on guns and cut $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget. All concerned viewed the Dickey amendment as the death knell for Image result for Parkland kids protestfederal funding on gun violence.

You see, just a few years before someone had published a research report that showed a gun in the home was more likely to result in injury than protection for those who lived there. The NRA pushed the amendment to end research that might diminish the appeal of guns for some buyers. [Rep. Jay Dickey (Arkansas, Republican), now out of office, says he regrets the impact of the amendment he championed.]

Small victories matter in a long political battle, moving the policy debate in inches over time. The challenge, for gun rights advocates, is to get their supporters outraged over any encroachment.

The trick, for the Parkland kids and their allies, is to find and claim such victories, gracelessly, and demand more.

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Students walk out for gun control; schools teach….compliance?…engagement?

Students at Yarmouth High School participate in a walkout to protest gun violence, Wednesday, March 14, 2018, in Yarmouth, Maine. Leaders of the rally address the crowd from the back of a pick-up truck in front of the school. Yarmouth is one of the few sc

Yarmouth High School, Maine.

The final tallies are not in on participation in the National Student Walk Out for school safety, but thousands of kids across the country have gone outdoors for a lesson on civic engagement.

This demonstration was organized on the fly, in quick response to anger and frustration from the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The kids want adults to give them safe schools, but they’re not asking for gun turrets, higher fences, or armed teachers. They want sensible gun control.

Lots of adults, including teachers and school administrators, want the same thing. So, what do you do when students, often supported by their parents, friends–and a growing national movement–get ready to break the rules?

No surprise that school districts are responding in different ways.

Some districts have committed to maintain control, scheduling official memorials and prohibiting students from leaving campus. Milpitas  (California) Superintendant Cheryl Jordan announced that while she understood that students might want to express themselves, anyone who left the building would face “consequences.” Those consequences are thus far unspecified.

Two days of suspension are in store for anyone who walks out of classes at Sayreville (New Jersey) High School. (Note: The logic of keeping someone out of school for staying out of One student walks out after NJ high school threatens to suspend any protestersschool has always escaped me.) I’m sure some students, worried about grades, homework, getting into college, and staying out of trouble, will follow the rules.

But sophomore Rosa Rodriquez walked out, scoring interviews with local radio stations and getting national coverage for her act.  I hope that, if Sayreville follows through on its promised punishment, Rosa uses the time to explain why she thinks the American gun problem merits dramatic and risky action. She’s got a good case. (The ACLU is on her side.)

The threat of punishment makes politics more contentious and dramatic, and every kid in Sayreville High School will learn a harsh lesson about what’s most important to the adults who are supposed to be looking out for them.

Tolerating and controlling protest seems the more common school strategy. The Superintendent of Schools in Irvine (California) Unified School District announced that students were free to walk out and protest, sort of:

IUSD respects students’ First Amendment right, under federal and state law, to freedom of speech in the school environment. The March 14 event is entirely student-driven and voluntary – it is not sponsored by IUSD or our schools. In accordance with state law, we will not discipline students who choose to assemble, provided they adhere to District and school guidelines:

* All activities must be peaceful and respectful.

* At no time may students leave campus.

* Students must stay in the designated areas on campus, so as to not disrupt a safe and orderly educational environment for all students and school staff.

* Students may not exceed the identified break period and must return to class when instructed by school staff.

IUSD has received legal guidance from the Orange County Department of Education that school districts may provide appropriate time and place alternatives to ensure there will be no to minimal disruption to the instructional process.

Protest is easier when authorities endorse it, but they also take the heat out of the event.

PHOTO: Students across the U.S. walked out of classes on March 14, 2018, in a nationwide call for action against gun violence following the shooting deaths last month at a Fla. high school.

In Washington, DC, students turn their backs on the White House which has failed them

More than that, authorities can take the politics out of it. The student protesters are moved by the horrific shooting that cost 17 lives in Parkland, and by all the other shootings they’ve heard about in the years since Columbine in 1999–before most of today’s protesters were born.

But they want to do more than memorialize victims; they want to address the problem of gun violence, protecting themselves and others.

This is political, and it’s contentious–moreso in some communities than others.

The students who walk out of schools that support them will have to work a little harder to see the contention–and to stoke it.

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#TimesUp at the Academy Awards

Oscar night offers an ideal setting for politics: celebrities, cameras, costumes, and a global Image result for #TimesUpaudience in the ten millions. The trick is to make sure the spectacle doesn’t drown out the cause, and the cause doesn’t crush the fun–too much. Activists pushing for action against sexual violence, harassment, and gender injustice more generally have a chance to exploit the large audience, and it can matter as long as the audience doesn’t feel exploited.

Sexual harassment and assault received unusual–and overdue–attention over the past few months, the result of smart activism exploiting staggering revelations of abuse.

In the last month, the clever and committed Parkland kids grabbed some of that attention for the ongoing problem of gun violence. I hope the #MeToo activists will recognize their efforts and issues as well.

When activists have a window of a few hours of national television time, the goal has to be to get the message out—clearly and sharply—without encouraging people to change channels. Activists also want to expand that window, getting people to tune into the movement before and after the big show.

Like overnight stardom, an effective protest takes preparation. In the weeks of publicity and awards campaigning already underway, the committed can promote the cause as well as their movies. Already equipped with a handy hashtag, supporters can tell their stories, and announce that there will be more action on Oscar night. Audiences are less likely to miss the message if they know something’s coming.

They can also work within the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to make sure the host, Jimmy Kimmel, is on board. Maybe they can even get the Academy to announce new rules and standards for appropriate behavior (no “auditions” in hotel bedrooms off-hours?). At least the Academy can announce general support for an end to harassment and the start of gender equity.

Even before the event, actors can work to share their spotlight with the movement. Beyond naming villains, they can call out famous and less-known movement heroes. The Golden Globes provided a rehearsal; eight stars brought activists working for gender equity beyond Hollywood as their plus-ones, and on the red carpet talked about their guest and her work rather than a designer.  The basic black costumes at the Golden Globes also showed a clever innovation on the familiar cause lapel ribbons. It allowed attendees who didn’t have nominations to declare their support for #TimesUp without much effort, and made for powerful images. Organizers can go black again, design a ribbon or button, or try something new—a sash or hat. The point is to let large numbers speak without talking and push people to take a stance.

The Oscar ceremony is fundamentally about glamour and the movie business, as #MeToo must recognize. Activists have to work within the event. Long speeches that get drowned Participants march against sexual assault and harassment at the #MeToo march in Los Angeles on November 12, 2017. out by the orchestra as the cameras pull away don’t make for compelling politics or television. This means that the message has to be brief—a line or two, not a speech—but repeated throughout the evening. Those who get to make speeches can add a name or two to the lists of managers and agents who make victory possible. I’d hope that all the winners and presenters can “thank” an activist or two making the movement, while a chyron underneath or at least an available website provides links to groups. They can thank women who told their own stories, and people who supported them. Alyssa Milano, who started the #MeToo hashtag last year deserves recognition, and so does Tarana Burke, who started the pre-Twitter campaign in 2006. So does Moira Donegan, who kept a spreadsheet of allegations against Hollywood harassers. Of course, the exposure means more to Ms. Donegan or Ms. Burke, who do not have millions of Twitter followers.

Effective action means using the Oscars to help build something that spills off the big screen into real politics, part of a movement that continues the next day.

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The NRA under fire will bend or break–or both

The Parkland kids are forcing tough decisions on the National Rifle Association.

The Stoneman Douglas survivors continue to work to have all of us focus on the destructive power of the National Rifle Association in corrupting public debate. Instead of arguing about the GTY 922441420 A POL USA FLdefinition of assault weapons or the details of databases, the young activists say that taking out the NRA will allow serious discussion and progress on meaningful remedies.

It’s a great strategy.

Their approach is deliberately polarizing; they demand that Americans choose the NRA or, instead, to stand with the kids.


The NRA has cultivated extraordinary influence by holding the politicians it endorses to tight standards. Even more important than the often massive amount of campaign funding  and member support NRA politicians get is the explicit threat that the organization’s support is contingent–an opponent can get it next time.

By demanding action from government, the Parkland kids are peeling off some politicians.

Some, like Donald Trump and Rick Scott (Florida’s Republican governor) are trying to find the smallest step they can take to ease political pressures. Timidly testing the waters of Tyra Heman, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, protests in front of the school where 17 people were killed on February 14.independence, they’ve suggested raising the age to buy assault weapons from 18 to 21, in defiance of the NRA–for the moment. It’s not clear whether the gun lobby will be willing to draw a line in the sand on that issue and withdraw its support. If the NRA doesn’t, however, it will lose some of its core supporters, and gun groups to its right will try to cultivate them. And discipline works best when punishment is a credible threat, but a rare occurrence. Once the line is broached, Republican politicians will test how far they can go.


Congressman Brian Mast, who identifies as an enthusiastic 2nd amendment fundamentalist and NRA member, has come out in support of an assault weapons ban–in an op-ed in The New York Times, no less. Rep. Mast, who lost both legs in military service in Afghanistan, may be tough for the NRA to attack. He reports that he frequently carries a concealed 9mm handgun, and says that the proliferation of assault rifles threaten his safety, “…the defense my concealed 9-millimeter affords me is largely gone if the attacker is firing from beyond 40 yards, as he could easily do with the AR-15.”

Nineteen Republican members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to Speaker Ryan, asking for a vote on expanded background checks for gun ownership.They are challenging the NRA, which opposes the bill, and challenging Ryan to stand up to the right wing of the Republican caucus.

The Parkland kids are poking at the NRA’s unity, and any NRA response is risky.

And it’s not just politicians; the challenge to corporate partnerships continues to claim casualties, as lots of companies have announced the end of their deals with the gun group. TruCar, Avis and Hertz rental cars, MetLife, and Delta and United Airlines have announced the end of their business relationships with the NRA since I wrote yesterday. Perhaps the corporate leaders suddenly considered the wisdom or morality of the policies that the NRA promotes; certainly, the public pressure coming from the Parkland kids and their tens of thousands of followers has made that consideration possible.

Effective protest aligns moral, political, and economic incentives.

Unsurprisingly, the NRA went on the attack, responding that

…some corporations have decided to punish NRA membership in a shameful display of political and civic cowardice. In time, these brands will be replaced by others who recognize that patriotism and determined commitment to Constitutional freedoms are characteristics of a marketplace they very much want to serve.

Harsh talk, but no CEO is going to rush back to the NRA in response to ridicule. Other companies with wise leadership will be wary about linking up with the gun lobby. Those that Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and parents hold signs near the school in Parkland, Fla. on Sunday.rush in to fill the gap left by these defectors will be able to demand better terms from the NRA–because the risks of the association are more obvious than ever before.

The point is to push the NRA to the margins of legitimate politics. If the NRA concedes, even on small points, it risks its most vigorous supporters; if it holds the line, emphasizing weapons-based solutions (more guns in schools, for example) to the problems of guns, it winds up showing that its opponents are right.

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Targeting the NRA

The heroic Parkland students launched a campaign to target and isolate the National Rifle Association, which is fighting back vigorously. Wayne LaPierre, leader of the NRA, spoke gun control rallyat the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, spewing vitriol at anyone who might support even the most modest efforts at regulating guns. Hanging gun control on “elites” and advocates of socialism, LaPierre again suggested that making schools safer by “hardening targets” (metal detectors, armed guards, teachers carrying concealed weapons, thicker glass, etc.) was the only responsible strategy for protecting our children.

The vigor of his response shows that the Parkland kids are making progress.

Not exactly as they’d hoped, of course. Senator Marco Rubio and President Trump are willing to push the NRA on rather small matters, like raising the age for buying an assault weapon from 18 to 21, but they were both very clear that they would mostly (Rubio) or completely (Trump) accede to the NRA’s judgment.

Both Rubio and Trump received massive funding and electoral help from the NRA, and it’s easy to understand that they will be timid about alienating their benefactors. But there are plenty of officials less dependent upon gun money who are likely to see NRA support as more of a burden than a benefit. Watch and see if Republicans elected from suburban districts in more competitive areas start scraping out a little path of independence from the NRA.

And it’s not just elected officials.

Like other large membership organizations (AARP, for example, or AAA), the NRA negotiates discounts for its members with major companies. The Parkland students are targeting those companies as well, and getting quick results:

In the last day, Enterprise Rental Car, which manages three brands (Enterprise, Alamo, and National) announced it was ending its NRA discount. First National Bank of Omaha announced that it was dropping its NRA Visa card, and Symantec, which holds Norton and Lifelock, was ending its NRA discounts. The Wyndham family of hotels has also announced it was ending ties with the gun lobby.

In the short run, the NRA will try to find other rental car companies, banks, and hotels to substitute, and it may not make a huge difference, but by raising the costs of supporting the NRA in any way, the students are making progress.

The students–and their allies–are pressing any major company that treats the NRA as normal to stop doing so. On Twitter, they are calling out every company who offers benefits to NRA members.  They want to stigmatize and isolate the group and its political efforts, making it harder for most people to do business with them.

When LaPierre and Trump respond by demonizing their opponents and pushing concealed carry, they make the students’ efforts a little easier.

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The kids are alright: young activists brace for the NRA onslaught

emma gonzalez david hogg

Emma Gonzales and David Hogg, seniors. Two of the many strong young leaders from Stoneman Douglas High.

As soon as the brave and committed Parkland students revealed that “thoughts and prayers” would not be an adequate response to the mass shooting they lived through, ardent gun supporters set their sites on the kids. Social media provide ready access for offensive and outlandish claims.

So, opponents charge the students are not, in fact, students, but actors or plants, paid to undermine resistance to gun control;

or that the killing of 17 people at a public high school was fabricated, a “false flag” to justify gun control;

or that the kids, informed and articulate, are stooges of manipulative adults determined to foist gun control on the United States;

or that the traumatized students are understandably emotional, but certainly not able to offer wise policies on a complicated issues. (This last bit is from Bill O’Reilly, disgraced talking head, attacking young people in hopes of regaining a little public attention. I confess to a bit of schadenfreude to see him desperate for the spotlight.)

The strategy of discrediting the activists in a movement you don’t like as corrupt or naive is a familiar one, and the Parkland students have tried to prepare for it.

Stoneman Douglas students arrive at state CapitolRemember, until the mass shooting, these kids weren’t in a gun control movement, they were preparing for AP exams, auditioning for student plays, waiting for admissions decisions from colleges, or working in student government. A tragedy reset their agendas, and they are responding heroically.

A core group of more than a dozen student leaders rallied around Cameron Kasky’s #NeverAgain idea, to support each other, and to make something useful of the tragedy they are living through. They camped out on the floor of Kasky’s living room, sharing information, reaction to their tweets, and developing strategy.

The leaders of this campaign are high school students, and they know every move they make will face extraordinary scrutiny. Although they understood common sense ideas about how to make schools safer through gun control, they are studying the issues so that they never make a public mistake. They are earnest and informed in way that should shame many politicians, certainly including the president.

But they are teens; I expect that most have said something frivolous or posted a stupid picture online. I expect that trolls are digging, looking for material to embarrass them. But the more important point is their purposeful action, taking responsibilities that high school students shouldn’t have to shoulder.

Students demand action on gun violence in front of the White House (picture alliance/AP Photo/E. Vucci)The first activist responders inspired other Parkland students, and other students in high schools across the United States, who are organizing their own campaigns. Today, when Donald Trump pretended to listen to a select group of survivors who demanded action, students across the country walked out of their classrooms to support the Parkland kids and #NeverAgain. Some marched to Washington, DC, or to their state capitals.

Meanwhile, Stoneman-Douglas students rode buses to Tallahassee, to demand their state legislators respond to their pain and their concerns. First steps are so obvious, that the sharp rejection they received must have been disheartening.

If the activists can keep going, they will take more flack, politicians will respond, but they will offer as little as they possibly can. Trump’s initial response, offering support for a bump stock ban, and streamlining the transmission of background information among government authorities. The National Rifle Association doesn’t oppose these bills, modest positive steps toward safety.

The #NeverAgain students know they need more, and will have to work hard for a long time to make progress. Very wisely, they have focused on the NRA, demanding politicians reject its support. This is absolute, clear, and extremely sensible.

I hope that they won’t let opponents or allies talk the students off it.

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Gun politics notes (1)

About 17 students initially laid down in front of the executive mansion for three minutes to symbolize the time it took Nikolas Cruz to kill the same number of people with an AR-style rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday. (Twitter)

Following the inspirational lead of the Parkland students crusading for sensible gun regulation, Washington, DC students staged a die-in today in front of the White House, demanding action.

The Parkland activists have called for large demonstrations on March 24, and other groups have announced student walk-outs to demand regulation for safe schools.

As activism on this issue will develop over the coming months, I want to use this post to address some fundamental issues in gun politics that won’t necessarily fit into posts that address the day to day about current debates.

  1. The battle over guns in the United States really extends a half century, at least, to the  Gun Control Act of 1968, which began as a response to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. (Yes, you’re right, that was in 1963; gun legislation takes a long time.) In the wake of the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, Congress passed a bill that banned mail order purchase of some weapons, and prohibited felons and people judged mentally ill from possessing weapons. The National Rifle Association supported it.
  2. The National Rifle Association was not always so fundamentalist, nor has it always opposed federal regulation of firearms.Ambrose Burnside (at right), a union general in the Civil War, started the group after the war’s end, in response to the poor shooting and safety skills demonstrated by soldiers during the war. Founded in 1871, the NRA focused on teaching marksmanship and gun safety. Its core constituency was comprised of sport shooters and hunters. The group didn’t routinely oppose regulations on guns until after the passage of the 1968 Gun Control Act.
  3. The NRA supported that Act, officially, but some members were disappointed about the restrictions the government imposed. Over the next few years, a revolt within the organization led to a more aggressive anti-regulation group that focused increasingly on the political process. The group also shifted its focus from sports shooting to the use of weapons for self-defense.
  4. The second amendment to the US Constitution reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Amateurs and legal scholars have argued vociferously about what those words mean, and relationship of those two clauses to each other, and to the contemporary regulation of guns in America.
  5. No state or federal regulation of firearms was struck down by the Supreme Court for violating the Constitution until District of Columbia v. Heller (1968).
  6. Heller, decided 5-4, was the first time the Court found that the Second Amendment provided an individual right to bear arms for self-defense. The ruling struck down a DC law that prohibited the possession of unregistered handguns, while simultaneously refusing to allow most citizens to register guns. A departure from previous jurisprudence, it was a controversial decision.
  7. Written by Justice Antonin Scalia, Heller provided the most expansive decision on the Second Amendment to date. Justice Scalia described the right to keep and bear arms as fundamental, and analogous to the First Amendment right to free speech.
  8. Justice Scalia was clear that the right to keep and bear arms, like the right to free speech, was subject to reasonable restrictions for the public good. He wrote:

Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose….. For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues….Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

Heller clearly allows states and the federal government to regulate the sorts of weapons available, the people who might (or might not) be allowed to possess them, and the conditions under which guns are bought and sold.

I think the decision is important for activists on both sides of the issue. According to Heller the Second Amendment does not block all regulation of guns or gun owners. It’s therefore a mistake to allow it to dominate the debates about public safety and personal freedom. It’s also a mistake for advocates of regulation to focus on repealing the Second Amendment, as New York Times columnist, Bret Stephens has argued. Such efforts are extremely time-consuming, distracting, and unlikely to be successful. Jurisprudence on the Second Amendment continues to develop, but presently Justice Scalia’s opinion allows government substantial flexibility in crafting sensible regulation of firearms.


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