On Feb. 21, I stood on the steps of the Old Florida Capitol building alongside several other state legislators, activist groups, stakeholders and students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at a rally to end gun violence. The rally was in response to a shooting that took the lives of 17 people and injured many more at Stoneman Douglas High on Valentine’s Day. Thousands of students from the campuses of Florida A&M University, Florida State University, Tallahassee Community College and local high schools joined the Stoneman Douglas High survivors to support what has now become a movement.
Last week’s rally reminded me of the parallels between gun control and civil rights in our country. A significant shift took place during the civil rights movement, when four students from North Carolina A&T State University sat at a five-and-dime store counter in Greensboro, N.C., labeled “Whites Only,” to begin the “Until We Get Served” movement. After the first day of sitting at that counter and being refused service, those students were joined by others in this movement until it spread throughout the country.
I’m not sure if this “Never Again” movement will continue to grow throughout the country, but I’m sure that if students want to see change, they have the power to make it happen. I’ve followed the stories, from all over the state of Florida, about high school students staging “walk-outs” in response to the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High.
I personally met with a group of students on Feb. 20. When I looked into their eyes, I saw them grieving, but strong enough to overcome their emotion to demand action. At the next day’s rally, they chanted “Vote them out.” As this movement centers on the call from students for this legislature to make serious changes to gun control laws in the state of Florida, I, for one, am ready to take action. This movement is the necessary result of more than 20 years of the Florida Legislature passing more lenient gun laws — including “Stand Your Ground” — and proposals this year to bring guns into churches, as well as courthouses.
The tragic shooting at Stoneman Douglas High is Florida’s second mass shooting in just two years. On June 12, 2016, 49 people were killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. Immediately following these shootings, I heard people say that now is not the time to discuss gun control. However, I believe that now is the time, and if not now, then when?
The civil rights movement happened because young people were tired of waiting, and adults were inspired by the actions of the children to take action themselves. This “Never Again” movement has the potential to have that same effect.
Is this mass shooting the tipping point that will bring about true change related to gun legislation, or will we allow the lives of the ones who were lost to be in vain?
As we move forward, it is essential to have gun control measures that include a ban on assault rifles and high-powered magazines. Regardless of proposals put forward by the House, Senate and the governor, it is imperative that students remain involved and let us know what measures will force the change they want to see.
BOBBY POWELL, WEST PALM BEACH
Editor’s note: Powell represents District 30 in the Florida Senate.