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Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting

The Parkland survivors started a movement when they took on gun violence. Here's how it happened.

Alan Gomez
Activists and students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School attend a rally at the Florida State Capitol building to address gun control on Feb. 21, 2018, in Tallahassee.

The survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., have broken听through a decades-long stalemate in the gun-control debate in ways that no other group of survivors has been able to.听

They've pressured听President Trump to order a Justice Department crackdown on bump stocks听补苍诲 propose tougher background checks on gun buyers. They've persuaded听Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to buck the party line and call for congressional hearings.

They've persuaded the GOP-controlled state Legislature to consider gun-control measures once deemed off-limits in Tallahassee听补苍诲 sparked marches, protests听补苍诲 school walkouts around the country.

How did that happen? What has been so different from all the other mass shootings over the years听that have听resulted in the most significant gun-control movement in recent memory?

Experts on social movements say the Parkland students have a variety of factors working for them that weren't there following other massacres.

Geography played an important role. The Las Vegas shooter mowed down the largest number of victims in 91影视 history (57), but the families of the victims and the survivors of the shooting were scattered throughout the continent, from Canada to California to West Virginia. That made it impossible for them to form a cohesive group to lobby for change.

In Parkland, the students were all in the same school and from the same community. The victims and survivors were study partners, teammates, friends. That allowed them to craft a more communal response rather than suffering through isolated cases of grief, and mourning spread throughout North America.

The state of technology also played a big role. The Columbine High School shooting happened so long ago that students didn鈥檛 have social media apps on their phone 鈥斕齨o Twitter, no Facebook, no Snapchat. The听first iPhone wouldn鈥檛 launch for another eight years. That informational vacuum made it difficult for Americans far from 91影视 to truly grasp what听had just happened, to hear and see and feel the anguish those students were facing.

The Parkland shooting happened in real time. One student posted a video from the floor of his classroom, allowing Americans into that room to hear the gunshots, to hear the cries of those terrified students even as the gunman remained at large.

The age of the students was another important factor.听The 6- and 7-year-old survivors of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting were听too young to go before cameras and plead their case. The Sandy Hook parents protected their kids from rallies and press conferences, making it difficult for Americans to connect directly with the victims and their classmates.

The Parkland kids, who are in their late teens, were able to respond immediately after evacuating the building. They went before the TV cameras that descended on South Florida to vent, cry and听show the world exactly what they were feeling and what they were 91影视 for.

Marshall Ganz, a senior lecturer of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, said that "public narrative" helps explain why the Parkland students are connecting with Americans in ways that politicians and advocacy groups cannot.

"Human beings communicate through stories," said Ganz, who spent three decades participating in the civil rights and farm worker movements. "It's how parents teach children, it's how societies teach their moral content. These kids are articulate as hell. Their capacity to tell their story is amazing."

Rory McVeigh, director of the Center for the Study of Social Movements at the University of Notre Dame, said the Parkland students are also benefiting from a broader national environment that is ripe for activism.

He said voters are increasingly dissatisfied with Republicans in the White House and Congress, making them vulnerable to attacks. Pollsters are predicting a big wave for Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections, adding to the political vulnerability of Republicans in charge in Washington and Tallahassee.

Gwendolyn Frantz, 17, of Kensington, Md., stands in front of the White House during a student protest for gun control on Feb. 21, 2018.

McVeigh said the Parkland students are also stepping up in the wake of several successful protests, including the "Me Too"听movement that has led to the downfall of dozens of leaders in Hollywood, Washington and elsewhere. Protests against Trump's attempts to ban travelers from majority-Muslim countries and other recent movements have given the students reason to believe that they can affect change, he said.

"We saw people taking to the streets and actually getting things done," McVeigh said. "It serves as a model."

The Parkland students are also occupying a space that has been largely empty听in recent years: a grassroots movement against gun violence.

Too many advocacy groups are headquartered in, and focused solely on, Washington, D.C., Ganz said. The country's greatest movements, he said, have succeeded because they worked from the ground up, from civil rights activists blanketing the South to LGBTQ rights activists 91影视 in statehouses, city halls and local courts.

The National Rifle Association donates millions to congressional campaigns and spends millions more on national political advertising. But Ganz said the NRA wouldn't be nearly as influential if it didn't have hordes of local activists as well.

"The NRA has a base 鈥 that's one reason it has 15,000 gun clubs," Ganz said. "It can threaten听any legislator听in virtually any district. Nothing like that has been created on the anti-gun violence side."

Enter the Parkland students, who have quickly filled that space with marches on Florida's capital, a tactic that is already being replicated in other states.

The final factor, according to McVeigh, is unbridled youth.

He said adults too often fall into the trap of accepting the status quo because they know all too well how difficult it is to get legislators to change course.听

"You and I may be a little bit more cynical, because we've seen this play out, and we've seen the way that money can corrupt the political system," he said.

The Parkland students see something different, a sentiment that is on display any time they deliver a speech or confront legislators in person. McVeigh said that's why this movement has a real chance to endure.

"I grew up in the '60s. Some of the goals that we had may have been unrealistic from an objective perspective," McVeigh said. "That's one of the beautiful things about being 18 years old 鈥斕齳ou may still have this sense that you can make the world a better place."

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