Bill Clinton lauds Parkland students’ activism in book tour stop

Former President Bill Clinton lauded the political activism of Parkland students during a book tour stop in South Florida on Tuesday night.

“Politics is so polarized,” Clinton said. “And that’s why the Marjory Stoneman Douglas kids are so important.”

Clinton and co-author James Patterson were in South Florida to promote their newly released thriller The President is Missing. The book tour got off to a stumbling start earlier this month when, in a network interview, Clinton turned defensive and combative when questioned about the #MeToo movement and the 1998 Monica Lewinsky scandal that led to his impeachment.

Parkland shooting got young voters motivated here, official says

But Clinton’s appearance Tuesday was before a friendly crowd that gave him a standing ovation as he took the stage at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.

The hourlong talk by Clinton and Patterson, which was moderated by best-selling author Brad Meltzer, steered clear of politics or direct criticism of President Donald Trump.


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But Clinton occasionally strayed off topic to warn the audience gathered about the dangers of cyberterrorism and political polarization. And it was within the context of the latter that Clinton heaped praise on gun safety efforts championed by the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a former classmate murdered 17 students and teachers on Feb. 14.

Since then, the students have led national marches, social media efforts and lobbying campaigns.

“It is difficult to exaggerate just how important they are,” Clinton said to loud applause. He specifically cited their encouragement of other young people to register to vote.

Clinton blamed voter apathy — the “failure of the marginally connected voters” to turn out in the 1994 midterm election — for a major defeat and turning point for “sensible” gun legislation.

Earlier that year, Clinton recalled, Congress passed and he signed a bill that was the most sweeping piece of gun-focused legislation in American history.

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act covered more than 350 pages. It called for 100,000 new police officers, $9.7 billion in funding for prisons and $6.1 billion in funding for crime prevention programs.

But it’s best known features included a ban assault weapons — 19 specific semi-automatic firearms — and a prohibition on magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The law was originally written by former Vice President Joe Biden, who was a senator representing Delaware at the time.

The bans, however, were short-lived. A decade later, sunset expiration provisions kicked in and the law was not renewed or replaced.

Clinton blamed that result on the Democrats’ loss of both houses of Congress in the 1994 midterm election. After the law passed, Clinton said gun measures were no longer “a big issue.”

That was, he said, until now. He said the Parkland students have admirably mobilized support and have sustained momentum in an unprecedented way.

“That is because of the Stoneman Douglas kids,” he said. “They are doing something I couldn’t do. Something that didn’t happen after Sandy Hook in Connecticut or even in Orlando. They are making people come out for sensible gun legislation. We will never win if we don’t vote.”

In fact, Clinton’s comments came on a day when Parkland students led a die-in protest in West Palm Beach. On Tuesday afternoon, 60 students and parents participated in the protest as part of a national effort to mark the anniversary of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting.

The Palm Beach Post recently reported that the campaign led by the Parkland students is believed to have generated young people to register to vote. In the 10 weeks after the school massacre in Parkland, nearly 4,000 youth under 21 registered to vote in Palm Beach and Broward Counties.

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