In the year after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, many students and parents from Parkland turned their anguish into activism, leading a gun safety movement like we’ve never seen before.
They marched on Washington, lobbied lawmakers in Tallahassee and D.C., formed nonprofits and staged demonstrations, passionately putting proposals forward to end mass shootings and reduce gun violence.
One year later, Florida lawmakers have made significant changes to gun laws and school security, but at the federal level, Congress has done next to nothing.
LITTLE ACTION FROM CONGRESS
“People are right to be skeptical about Congress because Congress has failed to act, even after Sandy Hook,” said Congressman Ted Deutch, D-Boca, who represents Parkland’s district in the House. “We went eight years with a majority in Congress without an interest in doing anything to address gun violence. There is finally some movement going forward.”
Rep. Deutch believes the Parkland activists helped make gun safety a campaign issue across the country, and he is optimistic a democrat controlled House will pass a bill to create universal background checks.
Last week, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the background check bill, the first action from Congress on gun safety in nearly a decade.
Several Parkland students and parents testified and attended that hearing.
President Trump has issued an order to make bump stocks illegal across the country, but Congress has not passed a law to protect that order from legal challenges.
FLORIDA LAWMAKERS PASS BIPARTISAN BILL POST-PARKLAND
In the weeks after the Parkland shooting, lawmakers in Florida worked across the aisle to pass the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.
For school safety enhancements, the bill created a mandate to have an officer at every school building in the state, established the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, and set aside funding for security updates.
The legislation created several changes to the state’s gun laws. There is now a ban on bump stocks in Florida and a three-day waiting period to purchase firearms.
The law raised the age to buy a gun to 21 – a provision being challenged by the NRA in court.
The MSD Act also addressed mental health, providing funding for mental health services and giving law enforcement more authority to seize weapons from people determined to be mentally defective.
Republican Senate President Bill Galvano was one of the bill’s sponsors.
“I think the bill went further in so many areas than anyone ever anticipated,” said Galvano (R-Bradenton).
WHAT HASN’T CHANGED
The students who formed March For Our Lives have several policy goals – most of them, still unrealized.
One of the most hotly debated is a ban on so-called “assault style weapons,” like the AR-15 used in the Parkland shooting.
It was proposed in Florida, but that amendment to the MSD Act failed.
Senate President Galvano said he did not support that amendment because the issue had been politicized.
Some activists have called or a ban on high capacity magazines, but that was not included in the MSD Act either.
Others have suggested arming teachers as a way to prevent mass shootings at schools, and while the Stoneman Douglas Commission recommended allowing instructors to train to carry firearms, Florida lawmakers have not passed laws allowing it.
Instead, the guardian program allows non-teaching staff to train and carry firearms on school grounds.
Parkland parent Manuel Oliver said he will never stop fighting for change.
He lost his son Joaquin in the shooting last year, and formed an organization called Change the Ref, which uses art and activism to create a societal change around gun culture.
“A new nation is emerging without the need of gun culture,” he said. “I think the change needs to come from culture, and that will make the change in the laws. I don’t trust the political side of this.”
Change the Ref is now Oliver’s full time job, and mission in life.
“This is going to be our new destiny,” he said.
Oliver and other Parkland parents attended the State of the Union address and the background check hearing in Washington.
He said their presence on Capital Hill is a reminder to politicians.
“We are watching them,” he said. “There is a new America emerging that understands no one should go through what Joaquin went through.”