On February 14, 2018, a former student showed up at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, with an assault weapon. He opened fire and killed 17 students and staff, and injured 17 others. The impact of the event spread across the country, rekindling conversations about gun violence, and a massive youth movement launched in the aftermath of the devastation.
Survivors including Emma González, Tyah Amoy-Roberts, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, and Jaclyn Corin went on to become activists, their lives forever changed by the tragedy and the ensuing call to action to fight gun violence. Rallying together immediately, young activists planned the March for Our Lives for March 24, 2018. Amid all the national attention, the effect on the Parkland community has been immense — many have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and some have died by suicide.
Since then, movements demanding concrete legislative solutions to the uniquely U.S. epidemic of mass shootings and gun violence have only grown in their ranks. Young activists haven’t only focused on what happened in Parkland, either. Intersectionality has been a central part of the movement, with the activists bringing attention to the fact that gun violence disproportionately affects communities of color, and the ways in which it’s connected to other forms of violence and toxic masculinity.
On this day, the second anniversary of the Parkland shooting, we take a look at what exactly has changed in the past two years.
Almost a month after the shooting, in March 2018, the Florida legislature passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. The bill raised the minimum age for buying firearms to 21 in the state of Florida and established waiting periods and background checks. In addition, it created a program to arm teachers. The federal government then banned bump stocks nationwide. A huge surge of various restrictions on guns in different states followed.
In February 2019, the U.S. House passed the universal background checks bill, the first major federal gun legislation in over two decades. (Although it was DOA in the Republican-controlled Senate.) The U.S. Senate considered a federal "red-flag" law, which could allow authorities to confiscate guns from those deemed to be a danger, and several states — including Florida — passed their own.
Also last year, the Gun Violence Prevention Research Act was introduced in the House, and appears to still be in review. At the end of 2019, after a 20-year drought with no funding for research into gun violence, lawmakers voted to fund research as part of the government budget for the new year. Approximately $25 million will be split between the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes for Health (NIH).
This is a start, but it's far from enough: We still need national legislation to keep firearms out of the hands of those could pose a danger to others.
Where are the March for Our Lives founders now?
Some of the March for Our Lives founders have moved on to college. David Hogg and Jaclyn Corin are students at Harvard University. Cameron Kasky, who was a junior at the time of the shooting, is attending Columbia University in New York. Emma González is studying at the New College of Florida.
But new generations of anti-gun violence leaders are continually stepping in. "After the Parkland shooting, I organized my school's walkout and then founded my school's Students Demand Action group," Alanna Miller, a member of the Students Demand Action National Advisory Board, told Refinery29. "Two years later, I'm a college freshman and the group at my high school is still growing and I’ve started a group at my college, too. There are now nearly 400 Students Demand Action groups across the country, including high school groups, college groups, and community groups. 2019 was a huge year for us — we saw the House of Representatives pass gun safety legislation for the first time in over a decade, and states across the country passed stronger gun laws. 2020 is sure to be even bigger as we turn our focus to electing gun-sense champions up and down the ballot. There’s no doubt that young people are sick and tired of so-called leaders who refuse to act to keep us safe from gun violence, and we're ready to vote them out of office."
What's happening for the Parkland anniversary?
There are many anniversary events and special commemorations for the two-year anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. In Tallahassee, FL, a photo collection is being displayed in the Capitol to pay tribute to the victims and survivors in Parkland. In other parts of Florida, there are candlelight vigils. Students are staging walkouts to honor the survivors as well. In Parkland, fathers of survivors and victims have launched a school-safety initiative through the website SchoolSafety.Gov.
Several documentaries about Parkland have been produced and were released this week in conjunction with the anniversary. Filmmaker Jeff Vespa released the documentary Voices of Parkland, executive-produced by Judd Apatow, weaving together testimonials of that day. Proceeds from it are going to anti-gun violence organizations. Another documentary, called After Parkland, was released on February 12, and follows the students and families directly impacted by the shooting from the immediate aftermath to the beginning of their next school year, highlighting how the shooting affected going back to school. Katie Couric and Cheryl McDonough made a film called Parkland Rising, focusing on the grassroots activism that emerged in the weeks after the tragedy.
What can I do to fight gun violence after Parkland?
School shootings and mass shootings in general are still a gut-wrenching reality, and there have already been 32 mass shootings this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Still, inspired by the young leaders who rose up after their community was hit hard, we can all do our part to end gun violence. For those interested in participating in marches, protests, or other ways to stand with survivors of gun violence, connect with your local chapter of the March for Our Lives or Everytown for Gun Safety's Students Demand Action.
As the survivors have shown us these past two years, there is so much we can all do to speak out, make change, and stop gun violence from uprooting our own communities.