Protests on target
There's something different about these protests. The excuses that blanketed previous shootings aren't being swallowed. Over the course of the week Florida students marched on the state capital of Tallahassee, demanding action from their representatives. A national school walk-out is planned, as is another major demonstration in March. Widespread anger - visceral, raw emotion - has been hewn into a weapon. It's pointed right at the political establishment.
They are determined to be heard and are leveraging mainstream and social media to do so. 16- and 17-year-olds are openly debating National Rifle Association (NRA) and Republican talking heads on television and coming out on top. None have been more
compelling than Emma Gonzalez, a survivor from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. Her tenacity and bluntness has pushed the gun control debate back towards regulation after years of inaction.
The salient point is this: civilian ownership of assault weapons should be banned in America. There is no qualifier, no courtesy to the Second Amendment and no deference to the NRA's monolithic presence. The calculus is brutally simple; "our right to go to school without being murdered outweighs your right to possess an assault rifle".
Deflections and manoeuvres
The NRA was radio silent for much of the weekend, only to come out swinging
yesterday. NRA chairman-for-life Wayne LaPierre couched the debate in sagging libertarian platitudes. His favoured proxy, motherhood-blogger-turned-gun-acolyte Dana Loesch, used her platform at a conservative conference to equivocate, run interference and blame the FBI. And in reactionary corners of the internet and on the hyper-partisan Fox News network, all kinds of noxious conspiracy theories were floated to discredit student organisers.
The response from the White House has been insipid, although few are surprised; the Trump campaign received an eye-watering $20m from the NRA. A televised listening session
was held with survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, although the most outspoken students like Gonzalez weren't invited. The president has floated a ban on bump-stocks (initially promised after the 2017 Las Vegas massacre) and toyed with minor restrictions. Short of the bans that some quarters are rallying for (a near-impossibility given Trump's indebtedness to the NRA), his team has few policy levers to pull.
So they've moved into the realm of barely conceivable policy: the notion of arming teachers to confront
school shooters. The response, from teachers, parents, students and law enforcement alike has been a mix of incredulity and horror. For the NRA and gun-advocates in Washington, sacred cows are being slaughtered. Their catchiest piece of marketing, "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun", has been trashed. An armed, trained sheriff's deputy was on guard at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High while semi-automatic gunfire felled children. He drew his weapon, assumed a defensive position outside and waited for backup.
Hollow-points and hollowed-out points
As is nearly always the case, the real change hasn't started in Washington. Back down south
in Florida, the locals have turned on their elected representatives. Republican Governor Rick Scott - a man who has built his career on NRA money - has been savaged for his anodyne response. A town-hall debate between erstwhile presidential hopeful (and Florida Senator) Marco Rubio and a group of students is better indicator of what happens next than sanitised photo shoots at the White House.
Rubio was humiliated. Here was a man once considered a leading light American conservatives, cowed by his constituents. The auditorium crackled with energy as Rubio answered questions about gun-control. He told the father of a victim that a ban on assault rifles wouldn't have stopped the massacre; likewise to survivors he couldn't promise that he would stop taking money
from the NRA. In grave tones, Rubio warned that a ban on AR-15s may lead to a ban on all semi-automatic weapons. It would have been a good line to scare an NRA convention; but Rubio's audience erupted in cheers. It was an arresting view of a politician entirely out of touch with his electorate.