The questions come with more of an edge to them now that Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell is running for governor. But when asked by a reporter, after the school massacre in Parkland, Florida, whether she supported raising the minimum age to buy assault weapons, she was ready. Harwell said she bought one for her son, then flippantly added: “When that’s the only thing he wants for Christmas, what do you do, right?” It was as if a giant billboard with neon lights had just sprung from her head flashing the letters ‘N.R.A.’
This is just another example of a politician choosing the NRA’s money over people’s safety. The student survivors of Parkland are calling that “BS” and taking their fight for gun reform to the streets, to legislative offices, to Congress and to the White House. They are showing how to #GetCivic so that school massacres never happen again. And these student activists are having an impact. Since the shootings, many multi-national companies have announced they are ending their relationships with the NRA. Businesses are realizing that the NRA brand is becoming toxic to more Americans every day.
Also, these young people, who have grown up with the constant threat of mass shootings, will soon vote. They are well aware that their civic engagement can make lawmakers, who do not heed their message, pay the price at the polls. “Now that you’ve had an entire generation of kids growing up around mass shootings, and the fact that they’re starting to be able to vote, explains how we’re going to have this change,” says Parkland survivor David Hogg. A recent CNN poll reveals 70% of Americans want “stricter gun laws,” up from 52% in October. According to Pew Research, even the reliably conservative base of white evangelical Christians now favor expanded background checks by 4 to 1.
The teenagers from Parkland have seen first-hand what gun violence does to bodies, schools and communities. And they have learned that the best way to confront and defeat an unsympathetic and dangerous monolith like the NRA is with a targeted activism that hurts them in the wallet and in the voting booth. These young civic warriors are teaching a master’s class on how to #GetCivic by publicly pressuring lawmakers, mounting voter registration drives and loudly reminding their fellow millennials of the power their votes represent.
The NRA has 5 million members and an infamous ability to intimidate targeted politicians. But Everytown for Gun Safety, formed after Sandy Hook, essentially matches that with 4.5 million supporters. Americans are overwhelmingly disgusted with gun violence, but have not taken the necessary action to affect change. Former Colorado Senate leader, John P. Morse said, “They (the NRA) turn out people that already agree with them. The reason why gun policy is where it is in this country, at this point, is that the rest of us are too lackadaisical.”
Now is the time to change that reality and counter the attacks and misinformation of the NRA with the same fierceness that the students of Parkland command. Politicians everywhere need to know, in no uncertain terms, that they will soon be out of office if they continue to value guns over the safety of their constituents.