By Senator Chris Murphy
After the February 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Lane Murdock, a sophomore at Ridgefield High School in Connecticut, began planning a protest. The shooting, in which 17 people were killed, ultimately lead to a national tidal wave of students walking out of their classrooms across the country to protest adults’ lack of action on gun safety, particularly in schools. Sixty miles away in Hartford, a group of teens who live with the everyday reality of gun violence in their neighborhood gathered to talk about the factors that fueled this violence and how they could break that cycle. Meanwhile, a group of students in Parkland huddled in their parents’ living rooms and began planning what would become one of the single biggest protest marches in American history.
Today, kids grow up with the epidemic of gun violence as a horrifying daily worry. For today’s teenagers, school shootings have always been a reality. More than 200,000 students have been exposed to gun violence at school in the last 20 years. And for millions of kids, the risk of being shot simply increases when they leave school. 100 people die from a gunshot wound every single day – even on days without a school shooting — and in many neighborhoods, gunshots are a near nightly occurrence.
The Parkland shooting was the last straw for a lot of young people, some of whom had already been working for years to curb gun violence. They saw how lawmakers did nothing after Newtown, and Aurora, and Charleston, and Pulse, and Las Vegas, and Sutherland Springs, and countless other shootings. They watched the people who were supposed to fix things offer empty thoughts and prayers, followed by absolutely no action. They saw politicians who were more accountable to the National Rifle Association than to their own voters. And they were done with it. It was time to take matters into their own hands and hold their elected officials accountable.
So they marched. And they walked out. And most importantly, they registered to vote. Young people went to the polls, and they got their parents and friends and relatives to vote with them. They added enormous strength to the growing movement to end gun violence, bringing new voices into the fold and amplifying the ones who had sounded the alarm for years.
And it worked.
In the 2018 midterm elections, voter turnout spiked to a 100-year high. Turnout among young people alone jumped 16 points. And when people turned out to the polls, gun violence was a top issue. As a result, 26 congressional incumbents who boasted A-ratings from the NRA were replaced by candidates ready to fight for stronger gun laws. The NRA lost big, and not just in the places you’d expect: Candidates who stood strong against gun violence won in swing districts in states like Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Arizona, Minnesota, and Texas.
The new Democratically-controlled House of Representatives didn’t waste any time getting to work. They passed HR8, a commonsense bill that says if you want to buy a gun, you have to pass a background check. It was the first major piece of legislation intended to curb gun violence passed by the House in more than 20 years.
It’s been exactly a year since the House passed HR8. But instead of being debated and brought up for a vote in the Senate, HR8 is sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk gathering dust. Despite the fact that more than 90 percent of Americans want universal background checks, McConnell won’t even bring the bill for an up or down vote.
So our work continues. In 2020, we have the potential to elect a president and a Congress that can get real reforms over the finish line — regarding both gun violence and other pressing national issues – and I have no doubt that young people will continue to lead the charge.
There is no great social change movement in this country that has not been led by the youth of America. Creating big change is not easy. Tearing down the status quo is a process filled with setbacks. But the social change movements we read about in our history books succeeded because they continued to persevere in the face of adversity — and because young people were almost always at the frontlines of those charges. The movement to end gun violence is no different. And because of the young people leading this fight, I am confident that we will win.
Chris Murphy is a United States Senator from Connecticut. He is the author of the Background Checks Expansion Act and is one of the most outspoken lawmakers in Washington fighting to pass commonsense gun laws.