More than three weeks have passed since a gunman killed 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
As mass shootings go, the carnage was, sadly, rather commonplace. Most Americans have fallen into a routine that moves rather quickly from sorrow to outrage to frustration at the lack of political will to curb these killings to distraction at something else in the news cycle.
As reactions to mass shootings go, something was different. Many of the south Florida teens who survived the Feb. 14 shooting made a deep impression on how Americans talked about guns. They rallied behind #NeverAgain. They were unwilling to accept the usual double-talk from politicians in the pocket of the National Rifle Association. They forced into the spotlight a conversation about easy access to high-powered firearms like the one used by Nikolas Cruz, the teen accused in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings.
Yet, the nation’s politics will have to change in substantial ways if the Parkland movement is to have a long-lasting impact on the easy availability of firearms and frequency of mass shootings.
Put simply: Money makes the difference.
From 1998 through 2016, the NRA spent more than $144 million on candidates and campaigns, according to the fact-checking website Politifact. Politicians respect that kind of cash, especially if it can be employed to boot them from elected office.
Gun enthusiasts might be cheered by that level of influence in Washington and in state capitals across the country. Supporters of stricter gun-control laws might be depressed by that figure.
However, neither reaction really matters. What matters is that the NRA’s leadership comprehends that a pay-to-play government requires cash that can be lavished on proponents and unleashed against opponents.
An alternative path to power might be possible, but it’s very difficult.
“We’re here to make change,” Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Ariana Ortega said in February during the funeral of a friend who was gunned down. “We don’t want any other community going through this. There is something wrong with our country right now. This is common sense.”
Alfonso Calderon, another student, told The New Yorker magazine, “We have to vote people out who have been paid for by the NRA. They’re allowing this to happen. They’re making it easier for people like Nick Cruz to acquire an AR-15.”
The impassioned voices of survivors of the Parkland shooting have done amazing things. They have directed the conversation to one about gun control and in the process put NRA-friendly politicians on their heels, a rare thing in today’s political environment.
“We are saying as young adults, enough is enough and we are taking that message as far as possible,” Emma Gonzalez, another outspoken student, said not long after the shooting.
The challenge for those students is that what’s possible is limited without money. That means these inspiring students must change our political system. That’s something all Americans can get behind.