Florida students take on NRA, set eyes on
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[February 24, 2018]
By Andrew Hay
(Reuters) - In the week since 17 of David
Hogg's classmates and teachers were gunned down in Florida, he and his
fellow high schoolers have launched a movement that reshaped the gun
control debate almost overnight and may influence the U.S. midterm
Staring boldly into TV cameras, Hogg and other students who survived the
Feb. 14 Parkland school massacre, have demanded lawmakers restrict gun
sales and are targeting politicians funded by the pro-gun National Rifle
Association (NRA) lobby.
They have taken to social media to urge peers to hold a National School
Walkout on March 14 and converge on Washington ten days later for the
"March For Our Lives."
Plunging into a debate that has long polarized America between those
defending gun ownership as a constitutional right and those demanding
measures to stop mass shootings, the students are now focusing on the
"We get out there and make sure everybody knows how much money their
politician took from the NRA," Hogg said.
They want to influence not only those casting their first ballot this
year, but all voters, to make choices along gun-rights lines.
The students seem to have made more progress in a few days than years of
anti-gun advocacy that has stumbled on opposition from Congressional
Republicans who fiercely defend their constitutional rights to own guns.
The students' movement is forcing donors to cut funding to the NRA and
pressuring lawmakers to stop taking money from the politically
influential gun rights group.
The teenage activists themselves are collecting millions of dollars from
celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and George Clooney, enjoy pro-bono
advertising from people in Hollywood and organizational know-how from
groups including the Women's March.
What may be different about the Parkland students is their almost
instantaneous mobilization and the power of social media, where their
passionate speeches have gone viral, experts said.
"It's this perfect storm of young people whose authority to speak cannot
be denied because their friends were just murdered, have control of
social media, the ability to speak to mass media, have celebrity support
and organizational infrastructure," said Sasha Costanza-Chock, an
associate professor of civic media at MIT.
Democrats have rushed to support the teenagers, hoping the movement can
help them in the midterm elections by boosting historically-low turnout
among young Democratic voters.
"We need to embrace this movement," said Democratic strategist Rodell
Mollineau. "It very well may be that the solution to gun violence in
this country is a generational solution instead of a partisan one. This
might be the generation that finally breaks through on this issue."
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T-shirts hang on a fence near Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
Republicans, on the other hand, warned that it was unclear whether the
students would gain momentum beyond Florida, where they pushed
Republican Governor Rick Scott to propose tighter gun laws on Friday.
"I would be cautious to recognize any national trend based on one
week in which passions have been high," said Republican strategist
The NRA did not respond to a request for comment. In recent days,
NRA officials have lashed out at gun control advocates, arguing that
Democratic elites are politicizing the Parkland rampage to erode gun
To gun rights groups, Hogg and his friends are being used by
gun-control organizations to seek the same gun ban proposals that
failed after mass shootings including the 2012 massacre at Sandy
Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Dave Workman, senior editor of The Gunmag.com, said he suspected the
high schoolers had support from gun-control groups based on their
increasingly polished arguments.
"That may be more of a problem with credibility than an asset," said
Workman, whose magazine is the publication of gun rights group The
Second Amendment Foundation.
The students themselves say they do not need anyone's approval and
refuse to align with any political party, pointing out that both
Republicans and Democrats take NRA money.
"Honestly both sides are pretty corrupt and I'm not willing to take
a side unless I know the person," said Hogg. "These politicians need
to be afraid."
Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest U.S. gun control advocacy
group, formed a youth branch this week after receiving thousands of
enquiries from students around the country and is opening chapters
in four states.
Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse
nightclub in Orlando, Florida, praised the Parkland students for
bringing an end to years of inaction.
"These teenagers have done the impossible," said Wolf, a member of
the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. "And all it took was
a group of angry children with the right message to slap some sense
(Reporting By Andrew Hay; Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg,
Dan Trotta and Zach Fagenson; Editing by Daniel Wallis)
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