Americans outraged by their country’s mass shooting epidemic appear to be organizing at an unprecedented rate, following the 14 February shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people were killed.
The gun policy reform group Everytown for Gun Safety said a 25% leap in members in the two weeks after the Parkland shooting meant the group had overtaken the National Rifle Association in size – although the gun lobby’s claim of 5 million members has not been independently verified and is widely seen as inflated.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has opened 16 chapters since the Parkland shootings, the group said. Sandy Hook Promise, an advocacy group founded after the 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 young children and six adults were killed, has seen a wave of new signatories to its namesake vow.
At least 20 corporations have changed their gun sales policies, by activists’ count, including most recently LL Bean, which announced on Friday that it would no longer sell guns or ammunition to anyone under the age of 21.
“I think the Parkland shooting was the straw that broke the camel’s back for most Americans to get off the sidelines,” said Shannon Watts, founder of [Moms Demand Action(https://momsdemandaction.org/), the grassroots arm of Everytown for Gun Safety.
“I think the regurgitation by politicians of ‘thoughts and prayers’, once again without any action, was just too much for most Americans to bear. And I think that’s why we’re seeing this movement.”
Nicole Hockley, a co-founder of Sandy Hook Promise whose six-year-old son, Dylan, was killed at the school, said: “There’s a lot of increased activity, because people are just fed up with school shootings continuing.”
Hockley credited student activists in Parkland with energizing the movement.
“I think there’s a difference between parents like myself advocating for children who were killed, versus these kids advocating for themselves and asking adults to protect them,” she said. “That it’s the kids requesting and imploring for help has brought a new sense of urgency.”
A greater share of the public also appears to believe change is possible. A HuffPost/YouGov survey two weeks after the shooting found that 60% of Americans “now say that mass shootings are something that can be stopped, rather than a fact of life in the country – up 18 points from as recently as last October.”
Everytown and Moms Demand Action added 1.2 million supporters – “people on our mailing list that donate or take action” – since Parkland, bringing their total to 5.2 million, Watts said.
“We also, the day after the Parkland shooting, started Students Demand Action,” she said. “We already have 10,000 new volunteers signed up.”
The group has organized 600 events since the shooting and attendance at annual events is up tenfold, Watts said.
“Last year we had a state advocacy day at the Georgia statehouse,” she said. “We had 150 people. And we just had it again last week – we have it every year – and 1,600 people showed up. So we’re just seeing incredible turnout everywhere.
“We built the machinery over the past five years that can accommodate all these new members. We have a chapter in every single state. It’s a robust leadership system with volunteers, and each has a different role. That has enabled us to plug them in immediately.
“We’ve been creating this movement on the ground and now we can make sure we’re accommodating this moment that has happened.”
Hockley said there was still room for a lot more.
“There’s a huge amount of potential,” she said. “We’re in all 50 states at the moment. But there’s always a need for more penetration within those states.
“The individual state legislation, and then at the federal level – considerable policy is still required for gun safety reform, mental health and wellness and funding. There’s still a lot of room for growth in this movement.”
Hockley had just returned from the White House, where she met Donald Trump for a second “listening meeting” about gun violence in as many weeks.
“It’s easy to be cynical, and people can keep saying ‘Nothing’s going to happen’ but then I think you fulfill your own prophecy,” she said.
“It’s important to say, ‘Hey, these conversations are happening.’ We’ve heard different options coming out from the White House, some of them are very good, some of them are not so good.
“But the fact that there are multiple solutions being discussed, that is good in and of itself. The more that this turns from a fight into a conversation focused on solutions, the greater chance we have for progress.”
Watts declared a “tipping point.”
“It’s time for all Americans to get off the sidelines and to get involved in this issue and to make it a voting priority, and to remember in November which lawmakers are beholden to the NRA and to vote them out, throw them out,” she said.
“These movements take time. The NRA has a 30-year head start. It isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s going to take several election cycles.”