This post has been updated.
In the days after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, President Trump expressed support for universal background checks and raising the age to buy an assault weapon to 21. He even seemed to entertain a ban on assault weapons.
A year later, on the anniversary of that wrenching tragedy, when 14 students and three faculty members lost their lives in Parkland, Fla., the White House released a lengthy statement from Trump offering his condolences and listing the ways his administration had “made tremendous strides” in protecting students from school violence.
Missing from that list is anything to address gun violence, except for his administration’s ban on bump stocks, a device that attaches to firearms to make them trigger faster. The only direct reference to gun violence comes at the end of his statement: “Melania and I join all Americans in praying for the continued healing of those in the Parkland community and all communities where lives have been lost to gun violence.”
Except hours later, in the image Trump tweeted out about his statement, he changed the reference from “gun violence" to “school violence,” a bizarre and telling tweak.
The letter reflects how in the days and weeks after the Parkland shooting, Trump dramatically reversed his position on gun control. He concluded that the best way to protect students was to arm teachers.
But despite the president’s resistance to strengthening the nation’s gun control laws and the continued intransigence on the issue among Republicans, there’s a sense that the tide is shifting.
On Wednesday, after an 11-hour debate, the House Judiciary Committee advanced legislation to strengthen the nation’s gun-control laws. Among those casting a vote was Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) whose son’s murder spurred her run for public office on an anti-gun-violence platform.
When the roll call came to her, McBath said, “For my son Jordan Davis, I vote aye,” as she began to cry.
The bill would expand background checks to all gun sales, a policy that’s supported by almost every American, and came close to passing the Senate in 2013, when Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) famously teamed up to do something constructive about gun violence in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School murders of 20 children.
When no policies changed after that tragedy, it seemed there would never be the political will for any kind of gun control at the federal level.
But now there’s someone in Congress who lives every day with the pain of losing a child to gun violence — she’s not just an activist, she’s a lawmaker like any other who ran and won on the issue of gun control.
It’s not the first time grief has spurred political engagement. In 1993, a woman named Carolyn McCarthy lost her husband of 27 years in a mass shooting on a commuter train in Long Island. Her son was also shot and badly hurt. That tragedy inspired her to run for Congress in 1996 on a single platform, gun control, after her congressman voted to repeal the federal ban on assault weapons.
In 2004, that ban on assault weapons expired, and the Republicans in Congress and the White House did not reauthorize it. McCarthy spent her remaining time in Congress trying to revive it and other gun laws before retiring in 2015, with only mild success and a growing number of mass shootings.
But there are a few reasons to think things might be different for McBath, and Wednesday’s vote was the first step.
When the Manchin-Toomey bill failed, it received four Republican votes, while five Democrats from gun-friendly states voted against it. None of those five Democrats are in office.
Democrats aren’t running scared on gun issues anymore. The background checks bill that passed out of committee was the eighth bill introduced this year and has five Republican co-sponsors. That’s only a sliver of the entire GOP caucus, but it’s significant given the partisan nature of the issue.
Public pressure will continue to mount for Congress to do something to curb the nationwide epidemic of gun violence.
“I think this movement will continue to grow, and I have no doubt that there is more gun sense coming to the Hill,” McBath told The Washington Post’s Jacqueline Alemany. “There is a whole demographic of young people that will be voting, fighting for their own future and lives, and our legislatures are not doing that. My son is not here — he is here in spirit.”