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Will New Activism After Mass Shootings Change Gun Laws?

When Helena Spigner’s class of aspiring teachers heard there had been an attack at Nashville’s Covenant School, everyone went silent. “Our worst nightmare was now a reality for teachers who were just 15 minutes away,” says Spigner, a Vanderbilt University student. “It was at that moment when I realized that as a future elementary teacher, I couldn’t stay silent anymore.” A month earlier, after a gunman killed three at Michigan State University, Spigner, 19, considered abandoning her dream of becoming a teacher. After the Covenant shooting, she asked friends in texts, Had anyone heard about gun-control protests? With 2023 on pace to break a record for mass killings, new activism is emerging among survivors of shootings and those in their communities, reports the Washington Post. Spigner is leading a chapter of the gun-safety group Students Demand Action, part of a fresh wave joining advocacy efforts for laws aimed at reducing gun violence.

Protesters have flooded the Tennessee Capitol. Michigan State University students have lobbied lawmakers and turned out to events in the hundreds. High school students across Texas, which has had three mass killings this year, have walked out of class. On Saturday, thousands of activists with the group Moms Demand Action participated in rallies asking Congress to ban assault weapons. Advocates face head winds in Republican-controlled states and in Congress, where years of gun-control efforts have not moved long-opposed lawmakers. Newcomers expressed optimism about the tide of public opinion. The surge of energy among activists is reminiscent of 2018, when the movement coalesced around the high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17, said Kris Brown of the gun-control group Brady. Newcomers to the gun-control movement described a sense of momentum this spring arising from large turnouts at rallies, growing membership in advocacy groups and a sense among young people that they are harnessing newfound political power. Those spurred to action join a morbid tradition of people becoming mobilized after a shooting touches their lives. The involvement of new people, activists say, is key. “It makes the difference between actually achieving legislative enforcement and social norm change and not,” said Brown, of the Brady group, which has worked on the issue for decades. “That’s the only way our movement has ever achieved anything.”


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