Parkland legislative response is long overdue
Early in the afternoon of Feb. 14, 2018, Jennifer Moll was running errands at the Walmart located behind Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where her son, Jake, was a senior. She picked up a call from him. “There’s an alarm going off, but I know it can’t be a fire drill because there is only five minutes left in school. They wouldn’t do that,” he whispered. He was confused, surrounded by chaos, and he was right; the information didn’t add up. A fire drill didn’t make sense so close to the end of the day. Students wouldn’t make it to their buses on time. Listening to her son, Moll abandoned her cart in the aisle and ran to her car. “Jake don’t hang up. If you can’t talk, don’t talk, but don’t hang up,” she implored him. They didn’t know what was happening, but the connection meant neither of them would be alone.
Moll drove toward the school, toward her child and likely towards danger. She was nearly run off the road by emergency vehicles. A helicopter was whirring overhead. The call dropped, the connection was lost. We all know what happened next.
There were 17 casualties that day, 14 of whom were students. In the year since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, 1,200 American kids have been killed by gun violence. They were killed in school shootings as well as murders, suicides, gang violence, domestic violence, gun-related accidents and more. The magnitude of these fatalities is staggering, but the number does not begin to capture those affected, but not killed, by gun violence in this country.
With each of the 1,200 fatalities documented there are the survivors — friends and families who are forever impacted and traumatized. Jennifer Moll’s son, Jake, survived the shooting at his high school, but he will never be the same. Every time he and his mother enter a public space, she watches his eyes scan the room, noting all the exits and identifying places to hide. Jennifer Moll hopes the world will be better by the time she has grandchildren. She already sees a guard up in her son.
In the year since Parkland, legislators have made progress on gun violence prevention measures. The Giffords Law Center found that in 2018, 26 states and the District of Columbia enacted 67 new gun safety laws. Seven states passed laws to enact or strengthen background checks. Nine states and the District of Columbia passed legislation to strengthen bans on bump stocks and trigger activators. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have passed “Red Flag Laws” that allow family members, law enforcement and other members of the community to petition the court to temporarily confiscate the firearm of someone who is at risk of hurting themselves or others. Eleven states passed legislation to make it more difficult for known domestic abusers to possess firearms. New Jersey, Vermont and Washington D.C. banned large capacity magazines or further restricted access to high capacity ammunition. All the changes to gun laws have happened on the state level.
The federal government has not passed major gun violence prevention legislation in a quarter of a century. In 1994, Congress passed an assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. That same year, Congress also passed the “Brady Act,” which requires background checks on most, but not all gun sales. In 2013, following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut, Senate Democrats reintroduced a version of the Assault Weapons Ban that expired in 2004. The bill did not pass. The issue of gun violence prevention has continued to be so fraught at the Congressional level that we applaud our federal officials for even talking about it.
The “Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019” passed the House of Representatives on Feb. 27 of this year 240 to 190. It received the blessing of eight House Republicans. The bill, if ratified by the Senate, would require background checks for all gun sales including private sales and purchases made at gun shows or online. The Senate may never call it to a vote. If they do, it could suffer the same fate as the 2013 Assault Weapons Ban. If it does, can we even consider this progress? At what point do the 1,200 kids killed since Parkland become casualties of Congress’ inaction?