The lobbying push to change minds on gun control in this country isn’t a week old, and already frustration is seeping in.
At the Florida Capitol Wednesday, a group of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was turned away from a meeting with Senate President Joe Negron.
“Appointments only,” the students were told.
Turns out that Negron wasn’t the only lawmaker unavailable to meet students at that time. Five others also said “no thanks.”
And with that came the cold slap of political reality.
“We’ve been heard by other people, but the people here who make the laws aren’t really listening,” Agu Felman, 16, told CNN.
Other students were surprised that they left the Capitol without more. Lawmakers, they said, were weaseling away from answering simple questions. Students couldn’t meet with key lawmakers who make things happen.
One analyst explained that the students need to temper expectations. Overnight change is unlikely.
“They are not going to be happy,” Foreman said.
All this raises questions about the students’ quest. Is this exhilarating and long-overdue push by high school students going to result in sweeping new gun laws? Or will it quickly peter out like so many other well-intentioned efforts?
Some of my students at UMKC where I teach are betting on the latter. So is Jackson Barton, an online editor for The Free Press at Lawrence Free State High School. I asked him on the radio Thursday how confident he was that young people would continue their push after the country moves on from Florida.
“It’s really hard to say right now,” he said.
That kind of ambivalence doesn’t bode well when it comes to the battle ahead against the political behemoth that is the NRA and the millions upon millions it can spend on politicians in Florida and across the country.
The NRA’s head, Wayne LaPierre, wasted no time Thursday going on the offensive. He charged that the nation’s elites don’t care about school kids. “Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms so they can eradicate all individual freedoms.”
Young people engage, and disengage, from politics with rapid-fire frequency. They ramp it up when a megastar, such as Barack Obama, lights them up or when police shoot one too many black teens. Then they fade away. That’s not a sin. It’s just what young people do.
More than a decade ago, I witnessed a prominent Missouri politician confront a group of young people. The lawmaker stunned the room by announcing that she really didn’t care what they thought because they didn’t vote.
Martin Luther King Jr. was successful because he pushed and pushed and kept pushing even after he was jailed and beaten and threatened. It took years to pass meaningful civil rights legislation. The arc of the moral universe is long,” King used to say. “But it bends toward justice.”
His implication: That bending takes time.
Our system is built not for speed, but for deliberation. News stories flicker across our minds these days, then vanish. Emotions, even the most deeply felt, are fleeting. But the NRA’s money has lasting value.
Maybe this time will be different. But that’s a very big “maybe.”