Surge of activism brings new life to gun control debate

Last month’s shooting in Parkland, Florida was set to be like all the others: another heartbreaking event in a long series of heartbreaking events. But in this past month following the tragedy, the rather unthinkable has happened: corporations are taking the initiative to reduce school shootings instead of the politicians who have been tasked to protect us.

Two weeks following the shooting, Dick’s Sporting Goods became the first retailer to change its policies. It no longer sells assault-rifles, high capacity magazines, or guns of any kind to persons under 21.

Hours later, Walmart and Fred Meyer (through its owner Kroger) made similar policy changes. In an on-line statement, Walmart announced that it too would be “raising the age restriction for purchase of firearms and ammunition to 21 years of age” as well as ceasing the sale of “items from our website resembling assault-style rifles, including non lethal airsoft guns and toys.” Fred Meyer followed along by also raising its age restriction to 21.

Local retail chain Bi-Mart has made the same age restriction policy change as well.

These policy changes have obviously gotten backlash from members of the public. So much backlash, in-fact, that an Oregonian is suing. After being blocked by purchasing weapons at both chains, 20-year-old Tyler Watson is suing Dick’s and Walmart on the basis of age discrimination.

Watson’s suit claims that these policies are in clear violation of state law that allows residents to buy shotguns or rifles starting at age 18.

Watson is asking judges in Jackson and Josephine counties to stop Dick’s and Walmart from “unlawfully discriminating against 18, 19, and 20-year-old customers at all Oregon locations.”

For now, current state law may only allow age exemptions for alcohol and marijuana. But in light of the lawsuit, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries believes in adding an exemption for gun purchases; the agency plans on presenting a bill to state lawmakers in the 2019 legislative cycle.

Oregon has also gotten attention for stepping up to the plate with gun control laws.

In March, Oregon became the first state in the nation to pass a new gun safety law since the Stoneman Douglas shooting. The law closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole” which previously only blocked individuals with a domestic violence conviction who are either married, have children with, or live with their victim, from owning a gun. Now, anyone with a conviction is banned.

The measure, House Bill 4145, passed with bipartisan support in the house, and on a partisan basis in the senate (with one against it). Was then quickly signed by Gov. Brown.

The only other state to bring forward changes to its gun control laws is Florida. The bill, dubbed the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act,” will raise the minimum age for all gun purchases from 18 to 21, create a waiting period of at least three days and ban bump stocks: devices that can attach to rifles to enable them to fire faster (bump stocks came to public attention after their use in the Las Vegas shooting).

The Florida bill will also allocate state funding to school districts to provide mental health care for students, allocate funds for better school security, and, most controversially, create a program that would allow school personnel to be trained and armed.

Despite Republican Gov. Rick Scott facing immense pressure from outside groups like the National Rifle Association to veto the bill, he did sign it into law. The bill, though, was hard fought. The passing of the bill is quite extraordinary as it was done by a state which passed “stand your ground” which some argue contributed to the George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin killing.

Today’s N.R.A. has come under even more heavy criticism over its role as an interest group. Following complaints from clients and activists, a number of businesses who provided special discounts to N.R.A members dropped their partnerships. The First National Bank of Omaha was the first, citing that customer feedback had prompted them to review their contract. Delta and United airlines also ended their relationships with the N.R.A. Following Delta’s exit, the state of Georgia approved taking away the Atlanta based company’s $50 million tax cut. The state basically denied Delta its tax exempt status for opposing the N.R.A.

The gun retailers and business partners likely wouldn’t have split up with the NRA were it not for the sudden increase of political activism inspired by the survivors of Stoneman Douglas. Since walking out of Stoneman Douglas with their hands on their heads after the Parkland shooting, these high schoolers have devoted untold hours to preventing future school shootings.

The Parkland high schoolers have put themselves out there in the public eye, knowing full well they will be criticized. Instead of letting the conspiracy theories get to them, they press on in their mission of hope that maybe, someday, school shootings will never happen again. And whether or not you agree with what they’re trying to accomplish, it is quite amazing to see a new group of political activists be created in real time.