Activists hold a protest and vigil against gun violence on the third anniversary of the Sandy Hook mass shooting, outside the National Rifle Association (NRA) headquarters in Fairfax in 2015. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Opinion writer

Gov. Rick Scott (R) of Florida, where gun laws are among the most lax, is about to hand the National Rifle Association a stunning defeat. The Tampa Bay Times reports:

The Florida Legislature made national headlines this week when it passed SB 7026, also known as the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.”

The law is headed to Gov. Rick Scott, who is likely to sign it today. Much has been made of the political implications of the Republican-dominated legislature defying — even in small ways — the wishes of the National Rifle Association. The bill’s meaningful restrictions on access to guns include, a 3-day waiting period for all gun purchases, raising the age to purchase any firearm from 18 to 21 yrs.; banning bump stocks; a legal process to take guns from those suspect to be dangerous to themselves or others (subject to a court hearing); and prohibition on “people deemed by a judge to be ‘mentally defective’ from purchasing a firearm.”

The bill also includes a slew of common-sense provisions, including mandatory drills, enhanced mental health services and tens of millions for upgrading schools’ physical security.

The highly controversial plan to arm teachers has been somewhat scaled back. The so-called “marshal” plan does not include full-time teachers and requires consent of the county sheriff and the local school board. (Nevertheless, the prospect of more guns in schools with people with no experience in active-shooter situations was enough to prompt many Democrats to oppose the bill.)

The NRA, pundits say, always wins these fights — until it doesn’t. This legislation, albeit limited (e.g. no ban on assault rifles, no ban on high-capacity magazines) and misguided in one significant respect (more guns in schools), is a watershed moment for gun-safety advocates. The students and their parents fundamentally shifted the debate on guns, in one of the most pro-gun states in the country. Breaking through the familiar political noise, the students demonstrated the ability to talk directly to voters and to organize mass demonstrations. They are solely responsible for this surprisingly positive outcome.

“In Florida, the NRA lobbyist wields so much power that she literally writes and edits all of their gun legislation,” Matt Bennett, head of the Third Way and a board member of Sandy Hook Promise (who also was for four years the director of public affairs for Americans for Gun Safety). “But that changed when this titan of state politics apparently was laid low by a group of high school students brandishing only their moral authority, passion, smarts, and eloquence. It’s a stunning and inspirational reversal, and it might — MIGHT — be a sign of things to come in Washington.”

The challenge will now be to see whether the same results can be obtained in other states, even if Congress remains inert for now. The NRA is not invincible, the students showed, and Wayne LaPierre and Dana Loesch’s hysterical rhetoric and nonsensical arguments (the answer is always more guns; liberty depends on owning any weapon you want; etc.) can be overcome by impassioned citizens whose sole concern is the gun issue. In other words, the one-issue NRA voters have been bested, at least in one critical state, by one-issue gun-safety voters.

The takeaways here go beyond the gun issue.

First, President Trump has sparked a backlash on a variety of fronts, from guns to sexual assault to the “dreamers.” The passivity of ordinary Americans has been his and his cultlike following’s biggest asset. A mobilized electorate with specific aims that go beyond legislative goals to cultural shifts (weakening the gun culture, empowering women to step forward, embracing dreamers as every bit as American as other immigrants who have lived their entire lives in America) can, if led by media-savvy leaders, undercut the far right’s chokehold on the political system.

Second, all of this will be for naught unless the momentum of the #MeToo movement, the gun-safety movement and the defense-of-dreamers movement translates into votes in November’s midterms. It’s only when politicians see that activism translates into votes — and their political peril — that more meaningful legislative action can take place.

And that leads to the final, perhaps most critical, point: When democracy is under attack around the world, when authoritarians are claiming to speak for the “people” as the sole purveyors of truth, citizens need not be passive observers. The facts do matter, and their own life experiences count for more than political talking points. If Trump and other authoritarian-minded leaders seek to bully, divide, exhaust and demoralize opponents, true grass-roots movements can re-instill a sense of civic pride, communal action and idealism. But it is not a one-week or one-month proposition. The job of preserving democracy and changing the terms of public debate must go on day after day, year after year. If it doesn’t, we get Trump in America, fascists in Italy and the National Front in France.

UPDATE: Gov. Rick Scott has now signed the bill. The Post reports, “Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican who has an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association, defied the powerful group by signing the bipartisan legislation. . . . It signaled a major shift for a state known as a legal laboratory for gun rights activists.”