The entire Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School community — and beyond — are now invited to join a new gun control advocacy group. "17 for Change" launched on Wednesday, with students, alumni, parents, and local politicians announcing the organization's goal of holding politicians who oppose gun control accountable at the ballot box.
“The only way we’ll win this fight is through educated voting and government action,” Ara Johnson told the Sun Sentinel. Johnson is a 15-year-old sophomore at a local charter school, and she hopes 17 for Change can mobilize people to "vote out those who do not support our cause.”
Two juniors from Stoneman Douglas involved with 17 for Change are also the founders of a related effort, Parents Promise to Kids. Adam Buchwald and Zach Hibshman are asking parents and grandparents to sign a contract stating they'll only vote for politicians who support gun control reform. Both Hibshmana and Buchwald also say they support 17 for Change.
The launch event took place in Coral Springs and was put together by Broward County Commissioner Mark Bogen. According to the Sun Sentinel, Bogen said 17 for Change would make pushing gun control reform, educating voters, and providing a unified platform for the larger community its top three goals.
March has been a busy month for gun control activism. Thousands of students across the nation walked out of school on Mar. 14's National Walkout Day. Ten days later, more than a million participated in the March for Our Lives, with protesters from coast to coast trying to send a message to Washington, D.C., that something must be done to change the status quo with guns in America.
Still, it's unclear exactly where the energy for gun control reform goes from here. Exploring the question of whether or not real legislative change is likely, John Cassidy in The New Yorker sees in similar past movements plenty of reasons to be skeptical. As he points out, 750,000 participated in the Million Mom March in the year 2000; they were nevertheless unable to effect policy changes.
On the other hand, Cassidy argues this moment differs from its predecessors in meaningful ways. One of the most significant is the face of the movement — teenage survivors. President Obama became the public figure most associated with gun control following Sandy Hook, which allowed Republicans to rely on partisan attacks to stall public debate. In contrast, "today... the gun lobby is confronted with a group of articulate and nonpartisan teen-agers, whose presence gives their rallies tremendous emotional power and also insures blanket media coverage," Cassidy writes.
And there's plenty of evidence student activism — very much of the sort 17 for Change says it's going to pursue — has already had an impact. In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott recently signed legislation that included what's known as a gun-violence restraining order, which allows police to remove weapons from someone deemed a significant risk for gun violence. While it may not be the kind of far-reaching change many activists hope to see (an outright ban on assault rifles, for instance), the bill marked a seminal moment for Florida, one of the most gun control-averse states in the nation.
Not everyone at the 17 for Change launch agreed with the group's agenda. Jeff Brown, a resident of nearby Plantation, held a sign that read, "Don’t tread on our 2nd Amendment. Don’t tread on our bill of rights." Speaking with the Sun Sentinel, Brown said, "I do not support the politicians who want to infringe on our Bill of Rights, our greatest inheritance in our country. We’re not like China. We’re not like Russia. We’re not like Venezuela.”
It remains to be seen whose vision of the country ultimately has the upper hand. Either way, the student activists from Parkland plan to stay in the political game for the long haul.