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Changing Sentiments on Gun Control After Parkland: Background information when reading The Spectators

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The Spectators

by Jennifer duBois

The Spectators by Jennifer duBois X
The Spectators by Jennifer duBois
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    Apr 2019, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Michael Kaler
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Changing Sentiments on Gun Control After Parkland

This article relates to The Spectators

Print Review

Protesters at the March for Our Lives in Washington, including Emma GonzalezJennifer duBois' The Spectators is centered around the fallout after a mass shooting at a school, an incident that was rare in the 1990s when the novel takes place, but has become seemingly ubiquitous over the past two decades (See School Shootings & Conspiracy Theories for statistics). Each of these shootings is accompanied by a public outcry, yet no meaningful gun control legislation has been passed. In the past two years, however, anti-gun protests have begun to reach a fever pitch.

A slew of signs suggest that the public increasingly favors stricter gun laws. According to a survey Pew Research Center conducted late last year, almost six in ten Americans believe that the nation's gun laws are too lax. A Navigator report also found that gun policy is intensifying in importance as a political issue, with the nation at large trusting Democrats more than Republicans to handle the matter. If these trends continue, opposing common sense gun control legislation will become a political liability too heavy for most politicians to bear.

The NRA appears to have lost its grip on the national debate about gun violence. While the organization and its once-robust grassroots network have exerted substantial control over Congress since the 1999 Columbine massacre, polls conducted in 2018 from sources as diverse as NBC/Wall Street Journal and The Economist/YouGov point toward a bleak political future for the group. In stark contrast to the past two decades, more Americans now view the NRA more unfavorably than favorably. Not since 2000 has the group been more unpopular.

Left-leaning and centrist politicians unsurprisingly are eager to respond to the changing cultural climate. In January 2019, a host of Democratic primary candidates in the Senate supported the Assault Weapons Ban of 2019, including progressives like Kamala Harris and moderates like Amy Klobuchar. In February 2019, the House of Representatives approved two bills that would expand federal background checks for firearm purchases. The bills are the first major gun control legislation to be passed by a chamber of Congress in decades, though the Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to approve them.

The reason for the shift in Americans' attitudes toward gun violence is in part due to the unprecedented level of youth activism kick-started by the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida in February 2018.

In the wake of tragedy, post-millennial student activists like Emma González, David Hogg and Sarah Chadwick, members of the so-called Mass Shooting Generation, organized themselves and demanded leaders do more than offer thoughts and prayers. The students of MSD formed a gun control PAC, Never Again MSD or, alternatively, #NeverAgain; helped coordinate the March for Our Lives protesting gun violence in Washington in the spring of 2018, offering a new template for youth protest; and changed the country's gun debate by firing up enthusiasm for gun control nationwide.

The students' combination of fiery rhetoric and commonsense legislative proposals has proven to be immensely popular. For some time, about 90% of Americans have supported universal background checks, one of the students' key goals; only the NRA's tight grip on Congress has prevented legislation requiring such checks. In the bluntest of terms, the students point out the situation's absurdity and call for clear-headed changes to the status quo; they reject the pernicious idea that anything but stronger gun control laws (e.g. improved mental health services) will result in fewer mass shootings.

For those who are curious, a handful of books about the #NeverAgain movement have been published over the past year, including a few co-authored by Parkland students themselves.

  • David and Lauren Hogg's #NeverAgain describes the aftermath of the shooting and brings to life the tumultuous beginning of the eponymous movement in engaging, accessible prose.
  • Parkland Speaks, edited by MSD teacher Sarah Lerner, compiles a wide array of letters, speeches, diary entries, and artwork by the students of MSD, aimed toward a young adult audience.
  • David Cullen's Parkland takes a thorough look at the origins of the #NeverAgain movement. Also the author of Columbine, Cullen overviews the movement's goals, profiles key student activists and contextualizes Parkland's place in American history.
  • In spite of promising changes in public sentiment, much work regarding gun control remains to be done. Bills to pass universal background checks and enforce other preventive measures remain stalled in the House of Representatives, and no matter how many people might now support gun control, America continues to have a uniquely bad gun violence problem. Only with the sustained support of a determined grassroots network can lasting change possibly be effected.

    Protesters at the March for Our Lives, courtesy of NBC News

    Filed under Society and Politics

    Article by Michael Kaler

    This article relates to The Spectators. It first ran in the April 3, 2019 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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