Eight months after 58 festivalgoers were gunned down in Las Vegas, and three months after 17 people were fatally shot at a Florida high school, President Trump will headline the National Rifle Association convention. The annual gathering honors what attendees believe to be Americans' right to bear arms — so you bet people are mocking the announcement that nobody in the crowd can be carrying a gun when Trump and Vice President Mike Pence take the stage.
And yet, the fresh outrage over a gun-celebrating forum that bans gun-toting individuals points to something else: that the Parkland students, and the renewed efforts of gun-control activists, have placed us in a different America. We're angrier now. We're louder. And we're more hell-bent than ever on forcing actual legislative change.
How can you tell? Let's take a look back at the 2017 convention, which also boasted President Trump as a headliner. One year ago, Trump took the stage and told a buoyant crowd, "You came through for me, and I am going to come through for you.” One year ago, nobody in the crowd at the time was allowed to be holding their gun. (That's down to Secret Service regulations, which typically bar civilian firearms near the president.)
Between 2017 and 2018, nothing about the NRA convention changed. No meaningful gun-control laws were passed. And yet, in some critical way, everything changed.
Now, the president is facing more heat than ever for his decision to appear at the convention. Now, commentators are spitting fire about the hypocrisy of the ban on guns when Trump and Pence are speaking. Now, thousands upon thousands of gun-control activists and victims' families are fired up and ready to protest the convention in Dallas, Texas.
What changed? Certainly, there have been more high-profile mass shootings — last October's massacre in Las Vegas was the deadliest mass shooting in modern history — but it's about more than the high death tolls. It's about the fresh heroism of the Parkland survivors, who rallied for front pages, a national protest, a school walkout, and even a change in tone from Sen. Marco Rubio. It's about their right to attend a high school that doesn't become a bloodbath. And it's about the infectious energy they brought to the movement after almost two decades of legislative standstill.
These kids did the math and worked out that their lives were worth $1.05 apiece to their lawmakers. They challenged the country's most high-profile lawmakers to tell them their classmates' lives were worth other people's right to bear arms. They are passionate, articulate, compelling. They have convinced us, finally, that we didn't have to live like this.
And now, for this convention, this year, things are different. There will be a mural outside the convention honoring a teenager killed in Parkland. Authorities in Dallas are bracing themselves for convention protests thousands of people strong. And when it comes to the Secret Service's gun ban, the response has been swift and derisive.
In a sense, the NRA convention is going forward as blissfully ignorant as ever, reveling in the presence of both the president and the VP. But it's hard to argue that the past year hasn't left us a different country.
And going forward, the question remains: Is the country we are now a country that coexist with the NRA?