By now it is a regrettably familiar cycle in the United States. In the wake of a mass shooting in Florida, our society seems to have no other focus than the question of how we should regulate firearms. Usually this period lasts three or so months before we move our collective focus onto some other topic, leaving the victims of these tragedies without any semblance of justice.
Following the murder of 14 students and three teachers last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the cycle was enacted again. This shooting was the second deadliest in US history. With the most lenient gun laws of any developed nation, the United States suffers a mass shooting more than twice per month according to the Washington Post’s newest research. What is uncommon about this shooting is that the push for gun control is finding some traction. On Friday, Governor Rick Scott of Florida signed a bill that accomplished multiple pro-gun control agendas. Firstly, it raised the age to buy a firearm to 21 rather than the previous age of 18. Secondly, it banned the device known as a “bump stock” that lets a semi-automatic rifle operate like it’s fully automatic. Lastly, the bill places a three day wait on anyone who is purchasing a firearm–a legal safety measure intended to prevent any immediately rash actions.
Those in favor of more gun control should not rejoice just yet. The bill was signed by Governor Scott, a Republican who has long been a supporter of the Second Amendment, and it was passed by a Republican majority state legislature. Inserted in the bill is language that allows the arming and training of teachers and staff in state-run schools. Regardless of this concerning clause, this bill is more progress than pro-gun control advocates have seen in years. Perhaps the reason for this unexpected bill is that the Republican Party is no longer as unified in their vision of what reasonable gun control should look like.
President Donald Trump proposed a nationwide ban on bump stocks that just might make headway in Congress. He even went as far as to call out his fellow Republicans for their fierce loyalty to the National Rifle Association saying that lawmakers are, “petrified of the NRA.” The cause for this fierce loyalty is more than just the fact that approval from the NRA means an approval of a large majority of conservative voters, in addition to five million NRA members. Between candidate and party contributions, independent expenditures and lobbying, the NRA has spent $203.2 million on political activities since 1998. The influence they hold between their wallets and their popularity is career changing, and one of the causes for such slow change to our gun laws.
Only an hour after Governor Scott signed the bill into law, while surrounded by the survivors of the Parkland shooting, the NRA filed a lawsuit against the state by claiming the law violated the 2nd and 14th Amendments. While their claims against the 2nd Amendment are based on the usual argument that government cannot regulate citizen ability to own firearms, their argument for the violation of the 14th Amendment is that the equal protection clause is being contradicted by banning adults from purchasing firearms between the ages of 18-21.
This riff in the Republican Party is reflecting a change in the American people as more and more citizens are in favor of reasonable gun control legislation. While the ideas of what that looks like vary, it’s shootings like in Parkland that are proving that change needs to occur. Florida’s gun bill will doubtlessly not be the last we see in the next few months as state and federal government lawmakers debate on how to prevent the next mass shooter. While this strive for change is occurring even from unexpected avenues, there are still forces like the NRA to overcome.