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Proponents of Gun Laws See Hope        02/24 10:44

   PARKLAND, Fla. (AP) -- The progression has become numbingly repetitive --- 
mass bloodshed unleashed by a gunman, followed by the stories of the fallen, 
the funerals, the mourning, the talking heads and the calls for change that 
dwindle into nothingness.

   The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, though, has some 
pondering the improbable: Could this latest carnage actually lead to gun 
reforms?

   Alongside the familiar refrains stemming from earlier shootings, the Feb. 14 
attack in Parkland, Florida, came with something else: young survivors 
immediately pleading for nationwide action. They have led walk-outs, confronted 
politicians and garnered the support of celebrities, linking their sorrowful, 
eloquent, outraged voices to the gun debate.

   "Our kids have started a revolution," Stoneman Douglas teacher Diane Wolk 
Rogers said during a CNN-sponsored forum Wednesday.

   In the aftermath of the violence that claimed 17 lives, students have piled 
into buses and crashed a meeting of lawmakers in Tallahassee. They've 
relentlessly badgered Florida Sen. Marco Rubio about his support from the 
National Rifle Association. They've rejected President Trump's condolences, 
calling for action over words.

   To many advocates for gun control, the moment feels more profound than any 
since the aftermath of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 
Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 first-graders and six adults were fatally shot, 
spurring the most serious congressional gun debate in years.

   "The mantra just became if we couldn't do it after Newtown, if we couldn't 
do it after however many 6-year-olds were killed, it's never going to happen," 
said Dave Cullen, the author of "Columbine," which chronicles the 1999 shooting 
at the Colorado high school of the same name.

   "Then this happened," Cullen said, "and everything changed."

   Parkland is a well-to-do suburb, with a median household income more than 
twice the national average. Stoneman Douglas is a top-tier public school under 
the state rating system, where most students take advanced-placement classes 
and the curriculum includes yoga and culinary arts.

   Charles Zelden, a professor of history and political science at Nova 
Southeastern University in nearby Fort Lauderdale, said the students speaking 
out in the shooting's aftermath "come from a tradition of being heard and are 
angry enough right now that they won't stand for not being heard."

   "They're used to the idea that they're going to make a difference, that 
people are going to listen to them," Zelden said.

   Cullen wonders whether the Parkland attack indicates that it's not the 
number of deaths or level of outrage that a shooting evokes, but "whether it's 
the right group of people with the right standing and the right set of 
abilities that picks up the ball and runs with it."

   He's been awed that the tragedy produced not just one well-spoken young 
student activist, but a deep bench of them.

   Emma Gonzalez stirred a huge crowd with shouts of "Shame on you!" directed 
at lawmakers. David Hogg has emerged as a media star, giving poised interview 
after interview. Sarah Chadwick, whose angry tweet to Trump went viral, stirred 
those gathered in the state Capitol rotunda with what she promised was a 
revolution on behalf of fallen friends.

   "Never again should a child be afraid to go to school," she said. "Never 
again should students have to protest for their lives."

   Andy Pelosi, a co-chair of the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, 
has spent the past two decades fighting for gun control and watching in despair 
as a stream of tragedies seemed to bring little meaningful change. He, 
likewise, was struck by students' collective response.

   "I'd like to think this is different," Pelosi said, noting that the 
students' impassioned actions are helping galvanize a movement, even if they 
face formidable odds.

   "And if you look at our history, the main social movements in our country 
have been fueled by students," Pelosi said.

   In matching a $500,000 donation by George and Amal Clooney to the students' 
planned marches against gun violence, Oprah Winfrey compared the teens to the 
Freedom Riders of the 1960s, who rode buses into southern states in protest of 
racial segregation --- and others shared that sentiment.

   Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob, a professor at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania who 
studies social media-fueled activism, said the students have a chance to stir 
something equally profound.

   Jacob cited Rosa Parks' arrest in the fight for civil rights and street 
vendor Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation in Tunisia, which led to the Arab 
Spring.

   "Any movement, historically, it's down to narratives, how the movement is 
framed," Jacob said.

   The teens don't agree on all issues, but most want AR-15s banned and the age 
for buying rifles in Florida raised to 21, as it is for handguns. Many want all 
semi-automatic rifles banned. Uniformly, they want stronger background checks 
so people like the 19-year-old shooter, who was known to be mentally unstable 
and violent, cannot buy guns.

   Their message seems to already be having at least some effect, with Trump, 
Rubio and Gov. Rick Scott all taking some steps toward greater gun regulation. 
Rubio said his visit to Stoneman Douglas is what prompted him to change his 
stance on large-capacity magazines.

   Alongside the reasons for hope, though, have been signs of the tough road 
ahead.

   Some conservatives have portrayed the teens as pawns being exploited to take 
away constitutional rights, with the NRA insisting that liberals want to ban 
all guns. Far-right voices have even sought to advance the lie that some of the 
students are "crisis actors," essentially paid puppets helping advance an 
anti-gun agenda.

   "Everything they're doing is right out of the Democrat Party's various 
playbooks," Rush Limbaugh said of the students on his show Monday.

   To Dr. Allen Konis, whose son is a freshman at Stoneman Douglas, the 
students are so inspiring that "even their enemies are taking notice." ''They 
are worried, and they should be," Konis said, "because they are going to start 
a real movement in this country."

   After watching Virginia Tech and Orlando and Las Vegas and so many other 
places become mile markers in the thwarted march to pass significant federal 
gun laws, the voices of Parkland's teens are bringing hope to advocates craving 
change.

   "Nobody's going to stop these kids," said Mike McFadden, a 59-year-old 
retired police officer who drove several hours from his home in Indialantic to 
visit Stoneman Douglas, where a makeshift memorial of 17 white crosses is 
surrounded by mounds of flowers.

   Alissa Parker, who co-founded Safe and Sound Schools after her daughter 
Emilie was killed at Sandy Hook, said the Stoneman Douglas students simply want 
to feel safe. It makes her remember how Emilie would run to protect her little 
sisters if they ever felt scared.

   "I look at them," Parker said, "and I'm inspired."


(KA)

 
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