Before the shooting had even stopped, the teenagers hide in their Florida high school were talking about gun control. Within a few days, they started a crusade against gun violence, which will result in a nationwide series of protests on Saturday.
At the time of the battle, the students have joined forces with the liberal organizations that are working for years for stricter gun laws. That led to the criticism that the young people cause less spontaneous than it seems and that they are used as pawns.
Such presumptions infuriate the young people who have worked furiously since last month’s massacre at their marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the Park, where 17 people died.
They say that they welcome financial help and assistance related to certain basic organisational tasks — after all, said a Park junior Cameron Kasky, “I’m 17. I can’t rent a hotel room” — but that the ideas behind the movement to keep track of all of them.
“You can help us, but you’re not going to run us,” Kasky said. “There are some things that we inevitably need help. But our message, our organization, our platform — that we are.”
He said that as proof of his group’s independence, it rejected the request of a number of adult supporters to the address of Saturday’s main march in Washington, preferring to reserve all of the slots for the youth.
Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, said the motion is presented as the spontaneous product of traumatized students.
“This is not just a few children from Parkland high school who started a national movement — they have been swept,” he said. “The Gun-prohibition movement in this country is quite organized, and every time there’s a disaster, they jump on it and try to get the victims to work with them.”
Longer established gun control groups support the march, laughing at the idea that they are the ones really in charge.
“Everyone wonders who the adult is pulling the strings, and there really isn’t one,” said Peter Ambler, executive director of the organization founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords after she was shot in the head in 2010. “This is an authentic student-led movement, from the message to the formation of the program, up and down.”
Kasky recalled how in the days after the attack, the people asked him if George Soros was funding them. He said that he didn’t even recognize the name and had to look it up to find that it refers to a liberal billionaire whose funding of various progressive groups, is a favorite of the conservative conspiracy theorists.
Also Kasky laughed out of attacks connecting the students to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has been accused of anti-Semitism. The criticism was because the teenagers accepted the help of the Women’s movement March to organize student walkouts last week, and the co-president of the Women’s March had met with Farrakhan. Kasky noted that the majority of pupils in his group are Jewish.
But the Park students are in no way to go.
The raw emotion and outrage they expressed over social media and at meetings after the Valentine’s Day attack electrified the advocates of gun control and open wallet. She spent more than $4 million for the support of the more than 800 planned marches, including donations from celebrities like George Clooney and Oprah Winfrey, as well as the support of groups such as Everytown for Gun Safety, the management of the group founded and funded by former New York mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg.
In groups such as Everytown, the Park teens get the support of a well funded control of the movement that arose after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, when 20 Connecticut first-graders and six adults were killed. After the control of the legislation in the U.S. Senate, activists decided they needed to create a counterpart of the National Rifle Association is a combination of financial heft and supporters.
Everytown spent more than $70 million in 2016, the last year for which tax data are available, and has pushed gun control measures in various states with limited success. It helped for a background check ballot measure passed in the state of Nevada in 2016 as well as laws in the 25 member states to prevent domestic violence from owning firearms.
“The grass is significantly changed before the Park,” said John Feinblatt, Everytown’s president, and noted last year in the Virginia governor’s race, won handy by Democrat Ralph Northam, a supporter of gun control in the NRA’s home state.
The Park students are quick to seize their moment. First, they went to Tallahassee to lobby for the control of the legislation in Florida’s Capitol, where they were joined by Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly. She traveled to Washington, met with senators and parents of children killed at Sandy Hook and received advice about the activism of Rep. John Lewis, the Georgia congressman who was a stalwart of the civil rights movement. A pro bono lawyer helped with the setting up of a non-profit processing of donations. They also have their own app.
What happens after Saturday? Kasky said the students plan to launch a get-out-the-vote campaign aimed at young voters.
The students are not the only ones to benefit from the energy they have injected in the direction of the movement. Feinblatt said Everytown has received nearly 100,000 small donations since Park. Everytown and Giffords’ organization to help fund a number of “brother” demonstrations across the country Saturday. The main march web page refers to the supporters who want to make a tax-deductible gift to an Everytown fund.
Gottlieb, of the pro-gun group, said that the Park teenagers represent only one side of the debate between their generation and that they are lionized by the media at the expense of colleagues who disagree. In fact, that helped a number of pro-gun teenagers start to mobilize, he said: Youth memberships into a relatively small group have increased twelvefold since Park.
“There is movement on both sides of the equation,” said Gottlieb.
Riccardi reported from Denver. Associated Press writer Kelli Kennedy in Miami contributed to this report.