Students demand action from all elected officials
Conclusion of a two-part story
Last week, part one of this story covered details of proposed school safety and gun control legislation. Part two continues with an examination of how that legislation is viewed on the City and State levels and how reactions to the Parkland shooting differ from past mass shootings.
In response to the Parkland school shooting and the following outcry for gun control and school safety legislation by students and lawmakers, Gov. Dayton proposed a Safe and Secure Schools Act at a March 7 press conference.
The $21 million act would include intervention and support for expelled students, new resources for school building safety, and would provide students with more access to mental health services. In the same press conference, Dayton provided a list of control legislation he would support. It included things like expanding criminal background checks and raising the legal age to purchase an assault rifle from 18 to 21.
However, Dayton pointed out that gun control doesn’t share the same bipartisan support that school safety does.
“[Republican legislators] don’t even want to talk about [gun control], much less act on it,” said Dayton. “It’s really shameful, but it’s a reality.”
City and State at odds
The non-support of gun control legislation at the State level was not surprising for local government officials. Minneapolis City Councilmember Jeremy Schroeder told MSR that he knows it’s going to be tough to pass anything at the State level.
DFL State Rep. Rena Moran told MSR, “Reasonable gun laws should be able to pass at the State level, but it’s difficult with the Republican Party who seems to be opposing any type of ban or criminal background check.”
One of the biggest barriers to passing gun control legislation is the Republican majority at the State level. DFL State Rep. Raymond Dehn pointed out that as a majority they can table any bill they want, which they have done this session with bills concerning gun control.
Dehn said he recognizes the slim reality of gun control legislation being passed at the State, but added, “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”
Violence and school shootings won’t stop “unless elected officials at every level of government step up and act to regulate guns,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) told MSR. He added the cost of inaction on policies like an assault weapons ban and universal background checks would be loss of lives.
City Councilmember Steve Fletcher and Schroeder recognize that the resolution passed at city hall encouraging state and federal lawmakers to ban assault weapons, silencers, bump stocks and extended magazines does not do a thing about who can own a gun. “The City is pretty limited around what they can do around gun control,” Schroeder said. Fletcher pointed out that the gun lobby has been effective in passing laws that limit the City’s authority over gun control.
All the proposal did was authorize the city council’s lobbyists to advocate for gun control and work with legislators who support sensible gun control legislation, Fletcher explained.
“We’re looking at everything we can, but it’s pretty difficult between the state and federal to do anything on a city level,” Schroeder said.
Despite the fact there is some movement on the state and federal levels, Schroeder said Minneapolis doesn’t have time to wait. “Every one of us in elected office needs to be pushing for gun control,” he said.
After meeting with students at Patrick Henry High School, Frey said, “[The students] have all the confidence in each other, but they don’t have the confidence in our state legislators to pass common sense laws that will keep them safe when they’re in school.”
At his press conference, Dayton said gun control legislation needs to be put up for a vote so people can see “whose priority is the NRA and whose priority is students’ lives.”
If legislators keep voting to defend the ownership of assault rifles and continue to vote against keeping our children safe, Fletcher said he hopes that voters will take action and hold them accountable.
Watching necessary bills get voted down and tabled is frustrating, said Eva Goldfarb, a junior at St. Louis Park High School, who spoke at Dayton’s press conference. She said she won’t stop fighting until “thoughts are replaced with action and prayers are replaced with laws.”
It’s not uncommon for mass shootings to dominate the news cycle for a few weeks and then dissipate into the background, but this time it feels different, said Fletcher. “The hundreds of students walking out and the energy they brought feels much more determined to make something happen,” he explained.
The belief that legislation like an assaults weapons bans and universal background checks should have been passed a long time ago is popular with local government officials. “It should have passed with Columbine, but it didn’t,” Schroeder said. “We’re at this point how many decades later, and something needs to happen.”
The difference between current and past efforts, according to community leaders and politicians, is the youth. “[Students and young people] are the gun lobbies’ worst nightmare,” Frey said, adding that they have built a lot of momentum for commonsense gun violence laws.
Dehn has enjoyed seeing the youth movement. “I think it’s really beginning to change how we’re talking about gun regulation, and I hope they continue to try and lead and move this forward as much as possible,” he said.
“I think the youth have really taken the mantle of this debate and really sparked it with a renewed level of vigor, and I’m really proud of what they’re doing,” Ellison said. “Something about the direct victims of this attack being able to speak in large numbers has really driven this conversation to a higher level,” he added.
“Those kids aren’t playing,” said Lucky Rosenbloom, a former military officer and St. Paul resident who teaches conceal and carry classes from a “Black perspective.” The power from the youth who have been protesting scares politicians and people running for office because they are the next generation of votes, Rosenbloom said. “Those kids are letting the politicians know their intent and how they are going to vote.”
Dehn agreed and said that he thinks the youth movement has really put the legislature on notice. “The youth have a different way of approaching safety, and more guns is not the way,” he noted.
In Minnesota, there have already been multiple school walkouts to show support for school safety and gun control. On March 14, the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting, students across the country walked out of class for 17 minutes, one minute for every person who died.
Moving forward there are more nationwide youth-led organized protests planned. On March 24, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School organized a March For Our Lives event. The main event will take place in Washington, D.C., but there are over 700 March For Our Lives events planned throughout the world, including three in Minnesota.
Darnella Wade, founder of Black Truce, a St. Paul-based nonprofit aimed at improving community relations, is hosting one of the March For Our Lives events in Minnesota. Wade said hosting the event is an effective way to keep the youth involved and to keep gun control a hot topic.
Students also have an event planned for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting.
Aside from the mobilization of youth activists, another noticeable difference in the reaction to Parkland compared to other mass shootings comes from private companies. Companies like Enterprise, Delta Air Lines and MetLife insurance, along with over a dozen other companies, have canceled discounts and perks that came with being an NRA member.
Both Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods have stopped selling AR-15’s in stores and require that customers be 21 to purchase any type of weapon.
The first four words of the Second Amendment are “A well-regulated militia,” said Dehn, noting that the decisions by Walmart and Dick’s show they recognize the need for better regulation.
“They don’t need a law to tell them to do what is common sense and what is the right thing to do,” Rosenbloom said about Dick’s and Walmart’s decision.
Keith Schubert welcomes reader response to firstname.lastname@example.org.