4 Years Later: How the Hope Created By the Parkland Shooting Activists Lives On

A poster stands among a crowded gun safety March for Our Lives protest, reading "We won't be quiet. #NeverAgain."

Four years ago, on February 14, 2018, a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, took the lives of 17 people and injured 17 more. 

That same year, there were 105 total incidents of gunfire on school grounds in the United States. While this school shooting surely wasn’t the first instance of gun violence in schools — and unfortunately was not the last — students from Parkland were certain to get their message across following this tragic, horrific event: enough is enough.

Students were quick to mobilize and demand action from elected officials, organizing an official nonprofit: March For Our Lives. Founders include students like X González, Cameron Kasky, David Hogg, Jackie Corin, and now, hundreds of local MFOL chapters have emerged, fighting to end the gun violence epidemic in America. The goal: Stop school shootings and all gun violence in America.

While many of these founders continue careers inside and out of politics and advocacy, their legacy remains a major turning point in the reckoning of the gun safety movement. On this painful anniversary, we honor the hope, momentum, and impact spurred by the Parkland activists. 

4 Ways Parkland Activists and the #NeverAgain Movement Have Impacted America

New Gun Control Laws Passed in 50 States in 2018

After students mobilized in the early spring of 2018, lawmakers saw unprecedented success in gun control legislation. States from coast to coast took action, culminating in 50 laws, each varying by state. Some of these laws included restricted access to guns, banning bump stocks, expanding background checks, and allowing authorities to temporarily disarm potentially violent people. 

In Florida, which was rocked by the tragedy and subsequent movement of the Parkland shooting, lawmakers raised the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21 and extended the waiting period to three days. 

While gun reform succeeded on state levels, it was difficult for activists to find federal support at this time, due to partisan gridlock during the Trump administration. Still — they did not give up. 

The U.S. Capitol Building sits atop a bright blue sky.
The House of Representatives has passed a handful of gun safety bills, but none have become law.

The House Passed Bills To Strengthen Gun Laws in 2019 and 2021

Although federal support was hard to come by, the fight for gun laws persisted. A federal ban on bump stocks, classifying the weapons as “machine guns,” and considering ownership of them a felony charge, went into effect in March of 2019, with more legislation to follow.

The House also passed a bill to strengthen gun laws in 2019, dubbed the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019. This bill aimed to broaden the federal background check system for firearms purchases. While it stalled in the Senate, activists rallied as lawmakers continued to inch toward progress.

In 2021, the House once again passed bills requiring background checks on all gun sales and transfers. The bills again did not make it to the Senate to pass into law, but lawmakers insisted the issue would be of top priority in the 2022 midterm elections. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said: "A vote is what we need. Not thoughts and prayers."


Youth Mobilized Through Judicial Advocacy

While legislative action is necessary in the battle to end gun violence, MFOL activists have also mobilized through judicial advocacy, engaging a youth-led team that files briefs in different cases across the U.S.

With the support of MFOL, young people file Amicus Curiae briefs — typically alongside partner organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety, Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Global Exchange, Newtown Action Alliance, and the Violence Policy Center — highlighting the stories of people affected by gun violence. 

A number of these cases are heard by either state or federal Supreme Courts. The briefs created by MFOL activists are available to read online. 

A group of youth protesters chant while holding signs about gun violence.
Youth protesters gather in Minnesota for the March For Our Lives. Photo courtesy of Fibonacci Blue

Youth Activism Skyrocketed Through #MFOL and the #NeverAgain Movement

Despite tireless and ongoing efforts to impact gun control laws, the defining milestone of the MFOL movement is its social movement.

The first-ever March For Our Lives occurred on March 24, 2018, just over a month following the Parkland shooting. Vox reports that around 1.2 million people marched worldwide, with about 450 separate marches organized in the U.S., making it one of the biggest youth protests in America since the Vietnam War.

MFOL leaders also urged students to engage in a nationwide school walkout a month following the march, where students from about 2,800 schools participated. The momentum didn’t stop there. In the summer of 2018, the MFOL team toured the country and registered young people to vote.

During this tour, leaders learned more about gun violence and expanded their advocacy to embrace the intersectionality of gun violence in many marginalized communities. They also registered new voters across the country, reaching approximately 50,000 people through these events.

This youth voter engagement was actualized in the 2018 midterm elections. The U.S. Census Bureau reported a record 79% jump in youth voter turnout between the 2014 and 2018 election seasons — 2018 bringing the highest percentage of youth voter turnout ever. A record 46 NRA-backed candidates lost their elections that November. 

The MFOL was backed by the #NeverAgain movement, an organization that backs human rights causes and fights against genocide. 

These days, MFOL additionally empowers campaigns like Peace Without Police, and Aid & Alliance, which center mutual aid and BIPOC experiences with gun violence. 

According to a report by ABC News in November of 2021, MFOL is hoping to pivot to conversations and actions that decenter whiteness from the conversation surrounding gun violence.

The article reads: “While gun control remains the group’s chief mission, the students said they consider issues like racism, poverty, and voter disenfranchisement to be intertwined and have focused extra efforts on communities of color affected by gun violence.”

MFOL was certainly not the first group to ignite the fire in young activists, but their fight was universal among all students in America, a generation punctuated by the historic Columbine shooting and regular active shooter drills in the halls of their high schools. Their fight will rage on. 

MFOL co-founder Matt Deitsch spoke to the New Yorker in 2019, quoting Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the school’s namesake, herself: “Be a nuisance when it counts.” 

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Header image courtesy of Erik Drost (CC BY 2.0)

Article Details

February 12, 2022 9:00 AM
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