In the aftermath of the deadly shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last month, former president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama wrote a letter to the survivors. According to a copy that Mic obtained and published on Wednesday, the Obamas' letter to the Parkland students praised them for having "awakened the conscience of the nation," and how their "resilience, resolve, and solidarity" have inspired them.
The shooting killed 17 people, including 14 students and three members of school staff. In the weeks since, some of the survivors have been participating in vocal and determined activism, calling for reforms to gun laws to help stem the tide of such mass acts of violence.
During Obama's time in the White House, there were a number of school shootings that shocked and horrified the national consciousness ― like the deadly Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, a particularly awful and memorable example. But as the headlines slowly faded, and the Republican-led Congress showed no willingness to actually pass any new gun control laws, such moments passed without any real, meaningful changes being implemented.
In a letter dated March 10, 2018, the Obamas addressed the following message "to the students of Parkland." Again, all credit to Mic for obtaining the letter; it's just one page long, and ends with the promise that the Obamas "will be there for" the Parkland survivors.
The letter read:
We wanted to let you know how inspired we have been by the resilience, resolve and solidarity that you have all shown in the wake of unspeakable tragedy.
Not only have you supported and comforted each other, but you've helped awaken the conscience of the nation, and challenged decision makers to make the safety of our children the country's top priority.
Throughout history, young people like you have led the way in making America better. There may be setbacks; you may sometimes feel like progress is too slow in coming. But we have no doubt you are going to make an enormous difference in the days and years to come, and we will be there for you.
Both the former president and first lady's names are signed at the bottom of the letter. This is clearly an issue near to their hearts; Obama was visibly emotionally affected by gun violence that took place while he was in office. In a moment that was widely shared on social media and beyond, Obama shed tears in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. He has said that his inability to pass gun reform laws was the biggest frustration of his tenure in the White House.
Thanks in no small part to the lobbying and political donations of the National Rifle Association (NRA), one of the country's most powerful lobbying groups, the Republican Party is almost as intractably opposed to gun control as any policy idea in modern American life.
Far from considering or endorsing legislation that might reduce the huge number of guns currently in the United States, the NRA's position is that the society should be even more heavily armed, with even teachers and/or other members of school staff carrying weapons for defensive purposes. President Donald Trump has endorsed the idea of arming school staff while backing off from proposed reforms that might draw the ire of the NRA.
It remains to be seen whether the vocal advocacy of the Parkland survivors will bring about a different result, but it's clear that the Obamas wanted to offer their support in the midst of what they surely know is a long-term political battle for reform. After all, Obama knows full well just how hard passing legislation in the face of the current congressional Republican majority can be, having spent six years of his presidency under those circumstances.