It started with the incessant sounds of sirens – police cars, ambulances, emergency vehicles, fire engines – racing past the office windows. Then one of our staff received a phone call, the distraught caller informing the staffer of the shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School and asking if the staffer’s grandson was safe.
I immediately connected to the Coral Springs Police Department streaming broadcast and listened with horror and disbelief to the mostly dispassionate, professional voices of the dispatcher and police officers, talking about the still unclear situation at the high school. The only good moments were the reports of probable suspect in sight, soon followed by suspect in custody.
As the hours and day passed we, along with the nation and the world, watched the constant replays of scenes of terrified students being escorted from the school buildings, and of fearful families and friends waiting for news and to be reunited with loved ones.
The following weeks were filled with highs and lows: the inspiring, passionate, heartfelt eloquence of so many of the MSD students on and off TV, voices heard around the world; the many memorial and funeral services for the victims. Nor will we forget the debates, confrontations, marches, and protests involving students and political leaders.
And then came the reality – the politicians and their photo ops and mealy-mouthing, and worst of all, the blame game. I won’t play the blame game – I don’t have the facts (nor do I think does anybody else yet other than the published details of the murderer’s interactions with the school and authorities) and haven’t researched the law. But the politicians … Where to begin?
Let’s make one thing clear at the outset: We are not suggesting the repeal of the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution or taking guns away from law-abiding citizens. We know that many households in Parkland own guns. We also know that there were more than 1.7 million concealed weapons permit-holders in Florida in 2017. What we are supporting is awareness of the 26th Amendment and using it to accomplish the stated goals of the SD students.
Amendment XXVI: …The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age…
This brings us to the NRA. “Founded to advance rifle marksmanship in 1871, the group has informed its members about firearm-related bills since 1934, and it has directly lobbied for and against legislation since 1975. It has been called “the oldest continuously operating civil liberties organization” and “one of the largest and best-funded lobbying organizations” in the United States. Observers and lawmakers see the NRA as one of the top three most influential lobbying groups in Washington, D.C. Over its history the organization has influenced legislation, participated in or initiated lawsuits, and endorsed or opposed various candidates.” (Wikipedia)
According to the NRA’s 2017 press kit, American Rifleman, its leading magazine mailed to every member, had an “audience of 5, 560,000.” The actual membership of the NRA is estimated to be about a million less. But it is the “audience,” which is much more than a million, which makes so many politicians mealy-mouthed and wary of doing what may be best for the people they supposedly represent, like banning ARs (defined by Merriam-Webster as “a gun that can shoot many bullets quickly and that is designed for use by the military”).
The strength of the NRA lies not in bankrolling candidates; in fact, since 2000, the NRA’s donations to current members of Florida’s House and Senate amount to zero. Its strength lies in the grades it gives elected officials and candidates, ranging from A+ to F, that reflects on how their voting records, public statements, and responses to a questionnaire line up with the NRA’s own positions, including gun rights. (Governor Rick Scott, a probable candidate for U.S. Senator in November, has received an A+ rating from the NRA during all his years as governor.)
Voting bloc — a group of voters that are strongly motivated by a specific common concern or group of concerns to the point that such specific concerns tend to dominate their voting patterns, causing them to vote together in elections.
The NRA will support, by mailings, print, and digital advertisements, etc., any candidate seeking election or reelection that has an A+ rating. It also solicits its “audience” to support these people. This is single issue voting, bloc voting. Whether you love or hate the NRA, it is extremely successful at what it does. No level of outrage will come to anything if the NRA can continue to dominate gun control issues. Adopting its tactics would be good place to start.
In the 2016, there were 26,913,000 people aged 18-24 in the U.S. For the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, 50.85 percent registered to vote, 39.4 percent (10,603,722) voted. This is 7.76 percent of the total votes cast. I’m not smarter than you, I’m not as media aware as you, but I have lived longer and seen more, and I tell you, you must start at the grassroots! You will not change the political “bes” or “wannabes” only with protests or speeches. Instead, use your smart phones and computers. Continue to reach out to your contacts on the various social media, have them reach out to their contacts…everybody may not agree, but if you contact enough people, you will have a voting bloc.
Urge them to register to vote as early as they can. Urge them to learn the issues and the positions of the candidates on these and other issues they feel important at all levels – local, state, and federal (all too frequently, the local councilman really wants to be President of the United States). Urge them to vote in all elections, at all levels.
Low election turnouts historically favor well-organized single-issue constituencies, such as the NRA. If you support gun control, take the same cue. Turn those coveted “A” and “B” grades from the NRA into a weight around politicians’ necks, and the “F” into a badge of honor. Register to vote and then actually cast a ballot.
But this is not enough. In today’s society, one “hot” issue is soon displaced by another. To keep the issues that are today important to #MSDStrong, you must build, build, build. The NRA has been directly lobbying and influencing voters for more than 40 years. You have only been doing it for months. Yes, important battles have been won in Tallahassee: the age to buy a rifle or shotgun has been raised to 21; a three-day waiting period has been imposed on the sale of rifles and shotguns; the use, sale, or possession of bump stocks has been banned. But the bill contains a controversial provision long desired by the NRA that would allow school personnel to be armed under a voluntary program, and, most importantly, a ban on assault rifles and high capacity magazines was rejected.
Also consider, in several months, many of you will be graduating and moving on throughout the country. How will your voices be continued? Will the passion and determination you exhibit be there then? Will you be deterred or distracted by new places, commitments, friends, and duties? What will you do to continue a contest that will take years; against opponents like the NRA that immediately brought a (probably unsuccessful) federal lawsuit against the increase in age restriction?
The NRA has great patience. A recent Monmouth University poll found that 50 percent of NRA members polled disapprove of how the grieving Parkland students have handled themselves in the media. Sixty-five percent say the students are not effective advocates, and 61 percent believe they are being manipulated by outside groups rather than expressing their own beliefs. The NRA will continue to support the politicians that vote as they believe, not just in Florida but also on all levels – local, state, and federal. Learn from them; they’ve been doing it longer, and for them, doing it right!