A year after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school on 14 February 2018 sparked a national youth protest movement, gun violence remains an American crisis.
Congressional Republicans and Donald Trump have continued to block new national gun control laws. But gun violence prevention advocates have also seen important victories in the past year:
The midterm elections saw a historic surge in youth voter turnout
Last spring, after March for Our Lives attracted more than 1 million protesters at rallies across the country, the youth protest movement turned their attention to voter registration and turnout. Activists from Parkland, Florida, the hometown of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and others from across the country went on a bus tour, holding town halls and youth voter events in dozens of states.
Early estimates show that youth voter turnout for November’s midterm elections jumped from 21% to 31%, the highest rate in decades. In Florida, the Parkland students’ home stage, youth voter turnout jumped even higher, to 37%. While there’s no perfect science for attributing credit, early analyses suggest the Parkland students were responsible for at least some of that increase.
Prominent gun control advocates were elected to Congress
The increase in youth voter turnout was beneficial for Democratic candidates, who took control of the House of Representatives. Among the many Democratic candidates who won office while running on platforms that included gun control was Lucy McBath, whose teenage son Jordan Davis was shot to death in 2012 by a white man who had complained that his music was too loud. McBath, a longtime activist in the gun control group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, is now a Georgia congresswoman.
The House of Representatives is expected to pass a sweeping background check bill
One of the first bills introduced by the new Democratic House majority this year was HR 8, which would expand federal background check requirements on gun transfers and sales. Passing this legislation has been the top priority of American gun control advocates since the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school. The new version of the legislation is significantly stronger than the compromise background check measure that failed to pass the Senate in 2013. While the bill is expected to pass the house, it may be blocked from becoming law by the Republican-controlled senate.
Eight states and Washington DC passed extreme risk protection orders
The past year saw increasing bipartisan support for extreme risk protection orders, also called “red flag laws”, which allow law enforcement or family members to petition a court to temporarily block a high-risk person from owning or buying firearms. Even the Trump administration voiced support for the evidence-based policy, which has support from mental health experts, and may help reduce gun suicides, which represent the majority of American gun deaths. Since Parkland, the number of states with extreme risk protect order laws has more that doubled, according to a tally from Everytown for Gun Safety. In Florida, which passed an extreme risk protection order measure immediately after Parkland, courts granted more than 1000 orders in the first nine months the law was in effect, according to the Associated Press.
Nine states approved bills to provide more funding for urban gun violence prevention
Too often, America’s gun control debate has focused narrowly on preventing school shootings and mass shootings, not the everyday gun violence that disproportionately affects Americans of color. When it comes to preventing daily violence, advocates say, controlling access to guns is only one of the changes needed to make neighborhoods safer. In 2018, nine states approved bills to increase funding to support proven local violence prevention and intervention strategies, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
In all, state legislatures passed 67 gun control or gun violence prevention bills
Among the dozens of bills passed in 2018, 11 states passed laws to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, and four states passed laws tightening age requirements for allowing people under 21 access to firearms.
Leaders of school walkout protests turned into long-term organizers
In the weeks after the Parkland shooting, students at schools across the country organized walkout protests. Some of those student leaders have now become devoted and influential local organizers. In Arizona, then 17-year-old Jordan Harb helped organize a die-in at the state capitol in April to protest for gun control laws. He also led a youth voter registration drive, in which teenagers too young to vote (including him) registered 3,500 18- and 19-year-olds to vote in the midterm elections. Today, the nearly 1,000 student activists involved in March for Our Lives’ Arizona chapter have drafted their own bipartisan school safety legislation, with the goal of encouraging lawmakers to support prevention and intervention in schools, rather than trying to fortify school buildings against attack.
Young activists of color were recognized for their gun violence prevention leadership
For decades, activists of color in cities like such as St Louis, Oakland, Chicago and New York have been working nonstop to fund violence prevention programs, demand more action from politicians, mentor young people, and intervene in the lives of kids vulnerable to violence. But they have only rarely been offered the national spotlight. At the March for Our Lives in Washington DC, a series of charismatic young activists of color, from Alex King and D’Angelo McDade to Edna Chavez, Naomi Wadler, Christopher Underwood and Zion Kelly, spoke powerfully about their experience of gun violence.
March for Our Lives expanded to nearly 200 local chapters
The gun violence prevention organization founded by Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school students has expanded across the country. Jackie Corin, one of the Parkland leaders, is now working to train regional organizers, and expand the group’s network across the country, in preparation for leading even bigger youth voter registration and turnout efforts in 2020.