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Here is how the gun violence debate has changed in the year since Parkland

“A lot of people are seeing the emperor has no clothes.”

In the year since the Parkland shooting, the gun safety movement has emerged as a major force. (PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
In the year since the Parkland shooting, the gun safety movement has emerged as a major force. (PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

One year ago Thursday, 14 Marjory Stoneman Douglas students and three staff members were gunned down in their Florida high school.

Alyssa Alhadeff was 14. Scott Beigel was 35. Martin Duque was 14. Nicholas Dworet was 17. Aaron Feis was 37. Jaime Guttenberg was 14. Chris Hixon was 49. Luke Hoyer was 15. Cara Loughran was 14. Gina Montalto was 14. Joaquin Oliver was 17. Alaina Petty was 14. Meadow Pollack was 18. Helena Ramsay was 17. Alex Schachter was 14. Carmen Schentrup was 16. Peter Wang was 15.

There is a script for how things play out following mass shootings in the United States. Some Democrats call for stricter gun-control legislation. Leading Republicans say it’s inappropriate to “politicize” a tragedy. Nothing changes.

But in the days after the Parkland shooting, Marjory Stoneman Douglas students made it clear: They weren’t going to accept that storyline.

They protested. They marched. They incited a movement.

People listened. And one year later, there are signs of change.

The powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) is losing its stranglehold on the national conversation about guns. For the first time, gun-violence prevention groups outspent the NRA on political campaigns. Gun-safety advocates won a number of elections in November. And state legislatures across the country have passed a series of major anti-gun violence bills.

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Of course, activists have called for change after every mass shooting in recent years, and each time, hope has fizzled. But Parkland was different: The survivors — teenagers who represented a new generation — were the messengers. People across the country saw themselves, their children, their grandchildren in the students.

They didn’t let a day go by before they spoke out. They were emotional. They were sure-footed. Their friends, their siblings had been gunned down in school. They’d had enough.

“My sister, she’s a freshman, and she had two of her best friends die,” David Hogg told CNN in the hours after the massacre. “And that’s not acceptable. That’s something that we should not let happen in this country, especially when we’re going to school.”

“We’ve had enough of thoughts and prayers,” Delaney Tarr, another survivor, said at a rally days later. “To every lawmaker out there: No longer can you take money from the NRA. No longer can you fly under the radar doing whatever it is that you want to do…. We are coming after every single one of you and demanding that you take action.”

Now, the NRA is in the midst of a serious financial crisis. Member dues and revenue plummeted last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The gun-rights group lost $55 million in income in 2018.

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“There’s no question that the NRA has lost financial support,” Kris Brown, president of The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told ThinkProgress. “They haven’t acknowledged gun violence as an epidemic. [They] just trade on fear. That used to work, but gun violence is happening everywhere and they’re just relying on saying the Second Amendment is important. Too few of us live day today feeling a sense of safety.”

The Parkland shooting, Brown said, shifted the conversation.

“A lot of people are seeing the emperor has no clothes,” she said. “They’ve lost financial support, they’ve lost members, they’ve lost influence. The way they talk about this issue does not recognize basic facts. Until they recognize that, they’ll continue to have issues.”

Notably, the NRA was outspent on an election for the first time in its history. According to a New York Times report following the election, two gun-control groups, the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and Everytown for Gun Safety, which has the backing of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, spent at least $37 million on the midterms. The NRA spent an estimated $20 million.

The NRA has acknowledged that the landscape is changing dramatically.

“What has changed is that, for the first time, the gun control groups are well-funded and have efforts nationwide,” Jennifer Baker, a spokesperson for the NRA’s lobbying arm, told told NPR earlier this week. “They have an infinite amount of resources, as they’re funded by billionaire Michael Bloomberg who is decidedly anti-gun, and so he has allowed these organizations to have a presence in the state capitals on lobbying and to really put forth an effort we’ve never seen.”

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But, Baker argued, the group’s declining revenue doesn’t mean it is losing power. In fact, she said during that same interview, the opposite is true: NRA members are confident President Donald Trump would prevent gun-control legislation from becoming law.

“Practically speaking, the landscape has not changed for the prospect of enacting federal gun control legislation,” she said. “In the Senate, they don’t have the 60 votes that they need, and there is a pro-Second Amendment president in the White House. But what has changed is that we now have a majority of Supreme Court justices who are originalists.”

The NRA did not respond to requests for comment from ThinkProgress.

Nevertheless, gun control advocates did rack up major electoral and legislative wins last year. In Georgia, Rep. Lucy McBath (D), an anti-gun violence activist whose son was killed in a shooting in 2012, ousted Rep. Karen Handel (R), a pro-gun advocate who has supported campus carry laws and previously received the NRA’s endorsement.

McBath’s son, Jordan Davis, was 17 when he was shot by a white man after refusing to turn down the music he was playing in his car. His killer was later convicted of first-degree murder.

“Six years ago I went from a Marietta mom to a mother on a mission,” McBath said in a statement after her win.

In Florida, not far south of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D) defeated incumbent Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R). Mucarsel-Powell lost her father when he was shot and killed, and tackling gun violence was a central tenet of her campaign.

“October 18. To most, it’s just another day, but to me, it isn’t. It’s the day my father was shot and killed by a criminal with a gun. And because of that senseless act of violence, my family’s life was never the same,” Mucarsel-Powell said in a campaign ad. “In Congress, I won’t rest until there’s real change that keeps our families, our neighborhoods, and our schools safe. I owe that to everyone who has lost someone to gun violence.”

Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was among those killed in the Parkland shooting, also won a seat on the Broward County School Board last August.

“I’m so excited to honor my daughter, Alyssa, and the 16 other victims in the Parkland shooting, and to be able to be the voice of change,” Alhadeff said when she won. She has vowed to focus on school security and has tried to hold accountable school administrators who she says did not do enough to enact safety measures after the shooting.

Alhadeff told The South Florida Sun-Sentinel following her victory, “[Alyssa’s] death empowered me to want to run for school board. I know [she] would be so proud, and I want to make sure what happens to my daughter doesn’t happen to another family.”

Meanwhile, Democrats took over the U.S. House of Representatives in January, and this month held the first hearings on gun violence in eight years.

Gun-violence advocates also point to successes at the state level. According to the Giffords Law Center — the nonprofit started by former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ), who survived an assassination attempt in 2011 — 67 gun safety bills were signed into law in 26 states and the District of Columbia as of early December last year.

In Vermont, a new law bans possession of guns in K-12 school buildings and buses, except in specific authorized instances. Five states tightened concealed carry laws, 11 enacted laws to keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers, and seven states expanded background check laws.

Everytown, the group funded by Bloomberg, also initiated state-level victories.

Shannon Watts, founder of the Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a branch of Everytown, told ThinkProgress the Parkland shooting happened in February, just as most state legislative sessions were getting started. That helped jumpstart the group’s most successful year yet in terms of state legislation.

Watts said they defeated 90 percent of bills backed by the NRA. The group also championed “good laws” in 20 states, Watts said, including laws banning domestic abusers from owning guns, banning bump stocks, and closing background check loophole in states like Vermont. And, Watts said, Republican governors signed nine laws Everytown backed.

“We had an incredibly successful year in the states,” Watt said. “We didn’t just outspend the NRA, but outmaneuvered them.”

Advocates also had some disappointments. A bill passed last year in Florida following the Parkland shooting allows some teachers to carry guns. 

“The NRA has a 30 year head start,” Watts said.

But, she added, “There’s been a sea-change on this issue and there’s no going back.”