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This Group Is Turning Guns Into Shovels And Using Them To Plant Trees

Last week, on April 4, exactly 50 years after her father’s assassination, Rev. Bernice King, the youngest child of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, picked up a gun for the first time in her life.

The white-handled revolver wasn’t as big as the rifle used to kill her father in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968. But in the half-century since his death, handguns were responsible for the vast share of the more than 1.5 million gun deaths in the U.S.

“It’s such a small thing that can be so destructive,” King said. “There’s something wrong when something this small has so much power over us.”

King, along with several families of victims of gun violence and police shootings, was attending an event at the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, where activists and artists with the group Lead to Life showed how guns can be repurposed for good by melting them down into shovels.

The King Center gathering was the first large public demonstration for Lead to Life, a group launched by California-based activists Kyle Lemle, 28, and Brontë Velez, 24.

“It’s the ultimate transformational act, from something that takes life from the planet to something that gives life on the planet,” said Lemle. “We’re liberating the guns’ histories of violence and giving the metal a new purpose.”

The revolver King carried was meant for such a symbolic change. After walking past the crypt where her parents were laid to rest, she and the other family members came to an open area in which a furnace roared with bright orange fire. A man wearing fire-resistant coveralls and a welder’s mask approached King. She gave him the gun, which he affixed to a rod and placed in the heart of the flame.

Within moments, the weapon had melted away completely, disappearing into a ladle of molten iron. A team of metalworkers then poured the liquid metal into casts of a shovel handle and a peace sign.

The King Center ceremony was part of a week of events for Lemle and Velez dedicated to “healing justice” for communities and individuals affected by gun violence in the Atlanta area. Their inaugural campaign kicked off amid a much larger debate about firearms in the U.S. following the February mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.

In the nearly two months since the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the tragedy has touched nearly every facet of the national discussion around guns. Much of the conversation has revolved around reforming gun laws and reversing the disturbing trend of mass shootings. There have been rallies and protests. And many of the movement’s most visible leaders are white, though the Stoneman Douglas students have championed inclusivity and diversity.

Lead to Life’s tactics and focus look a bit different.

“There are a constellation of ways people had been impacted by gun violence, all critical,” said Velez. She added that she is particularly interested in “centering families of color, and specifically black folks rooted in Atlanta,” in the discussion ― people whose experiences she feels sometimes get overshadowed.

Velez said she was pleased to have Kai Koerber and Tyah-Amoy Roberts, two Stoneman Douglas students who are black, speak at the King Center ceremony last week.

Lemle and Velez formed Lead to Life after meeting at a “Spiritual Ecology” fellowship program in 2016, when they decided to combine their interests in faith, community organizing, urban forestry, environmental racism, and racial and restorative justice.

The concept of turning guns into shovels refers back to Old Testament scripture that spoke of people who “beat their swords into plowshares,” thereby turning weapons into instruments that benefited human life. Other groups and artists have replicated the symbolic act, including the Mexican artist Pedro Reyes, whom Velez has worked with in the past.

But Lead to Life’s real work begins after their tools harden. Lemle and Velez want people affected by gun violence to be able to use those shovels to turn their pain and loss into new life.

Over the weekend, Lead to Life hosted a series of tree plantings at sites of violence around Atlanta. They also organized a garden action day, in which volunteers used the shovels and other tools to improve a Westside Atlanta resident’s community “food forest.” Many attendees had never done this sort of farm work before, and Lemle and Velez said it provided a way for people to build positive relationships with nature.

One planting, in particular, was deeply personal for Velez. In 2013, she lost a friend, 21-year-old X’avier Arnold, to a fatal shooting during a robbery attempt on a local bike path. The 14-year-old perpetrator and his adult accomplice were each sentenced to serve three life sentences in prison. Yet Velez said the idea of such a young person spending the rest of his life behind bars offered little sense of closure.

On Sunday, Velez gathered at the spot of Arnold’s shooting with his family and loved ones and planted a redbud tree. They scattered Arnold’s ashes, along with soil that Velez had gathered from the site of an early 20th-century lynching along the Chattahoochee River.

“There was a lot of joy, and we had time to be intimate with one another and to reflect on what it meant to plant there, at the site where he was killed,” said Velez.

It takes time and space to grieve and work through trauma, said Velez, but those are luxuries not afforded to many people touched by gun violence.

“With folks who have lost their children, to feel this process as one that is actually seeding something is really profound,” she said.

Velez attended another tree planting on Sunday for Jamarion Robinson, a 26-year-old black man shot 76 times by U.S. marshals in 2016. Lead to Life also returned to the King Center to plant a cherry tree in Coretta Scott King’s Peace Garden.

The guns involved in Lead to Life’s recent events had been donated to the San Francisco Police Department through a buyback program organized by United Playaz, a violence prevention and youth development organization. Minnesota-based metal artist James Brenner helped transport the weapons to Atlanta, along with his furnace to assist in melting and recasting them.

Although Lead to Life had wanted to work with the Atlanta Police Department, Georgia state law forbids law enforcement from destroying guns that are seized from criminals or voluntarily turned in through buybacks. A number of other states have passed similar laws in recent years, and as a result, many law enforcement agencies are forced to sell those firearms back onto the street.

“We couldn’t actually get weapons from [the Atlanta Police Department] because of politics,” said Lemle.

In the future, Lead to Life plans to work directly with people who want to turn over their guns. The organization has seen increased interest in the wake of the Parkland shooting, said Lemle.

“We’ve already had folks reaching out to us inspired by the work, wanting to get rid of their guns for good,” he said. Lemle added that gun owners must first disable their firearms by making cuts to weapons before shipping them to Lead to Life or a partner organization. But he advised people to reach out for instructions before doing anything.

With an estimated 300 million firearms in civilian hands in America, Lemle and Velez understand this sort of project alone won’t make a meaningful dent in gun violence, a nationwide epidemic that erupts each year in around 11,000 homicides, 22,000 suicides and tens of thousands of other nonfatal shootings.

“It’s a drop in the ocean to turn a gun into a shovel,” Velez said. “We’re more about what we as a people need to do to be well and together with one another to heal, because we can’t wait for the state to do that for us.”

But if Lead to Life’s first round of events is any indication, Lemle and Velez believe they can at least shift participants’ consciousness in ways that may help disrupt the cycles of violence. By offering time and space to process trauma, as well as a place to foster healthy relationships with nature and each other, Lemle and Velez hope to turn people away from apathy and eventually toward political change.

“It’s really a spiritual crisis that is causing us to kill each other and render people and planet as disposable,” Lemle said. “Nothing is going to change on Capitol Hill until there is a true social movement demanding peace, and where I think social movements truly begin is from that spiritual place within ourselves.”

Black And Brown Parkland Students Want You To Hear Their ‘Stories Untold’

Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have started a project to give their peers from underrepresented groups a larger platform on which to share their experiences with gun violence.

A small group of students at the Parkland, Florida, school where 17 people were killed in a mass shooting in February, launched a new Twitter account and hashtag, #StoriesUntold, on Monday.

The online campaign ― started by 17-year-old junior Carlitos Rodriguez, who is Latino, and a handful of his friends, mostly teens of color ― is meant to amplify the stories of people affected by gun violence who feel unheard, particularly their Stoneman Douglas classmates of color. Some of those students say the media have not recognized them as much as they have highlighted their white peers.

“Our school is very diverse and the media is not representing us,” Rodriguez told HuffPost on Thursday. He noted that while nearly 40 percent of Stoneman Douglas’ 3,000 or so students are nonwhite, the majority of the students getting the most media attention are those at the forefront of the March For Our Lives movement, and they are largely white.

“We want to represent the minorities that are not in the media ― the Latinos, African-Americans, Asians. Our voices are very powerful,” he said.

In the few days since the Stories Untold account was launched, it has largely retweeted Parkland students describing their experiences of the Feb. 14 shooting. Many of the tweets share students’ traumatic stories of watching their peers and teachers being shot. Some students are sharing their stories publicly for the first time.

“We have so many students who were inside that building texting us because they can’t keep their pain any longer,” Rodriguez said. “They need to share it with someone. And their story matters.”

Ultimately, the project aims to expand its focus and feature more stories of people affected by gun violence beyond Stoneman Douglas, Rodriguez said ― specifically from communities of color, which are disproportionately affected by gun violence.

Last week, a group of black students at the school held a news conference to express that their voices weren’t being sufficiently heard ― by the media or their peers.

Rodriguez echoed those students’ feelings, in both applauding their now-famous classmates like Emma González and David Hogg for their efforts to make the teen-led movement more inclusive and pushing for them to feature more voices of their own black and brown peers. 

“We just want inclusion ― and to be able to share our stories,” Rodriguez said, noting that March For Our Lives student leaders like González are their friends and support the Stories Untold project.

“We’re all truly fighting for one cause,” he added. “We’re just adding more fire to this movement.”

GOP Lawmakers To Skip Student-Led ‘Town Hall For Our Lives’ Events Across The Country

A flurry of town halls to address the country’s gun violence epidemic are planned nationwide for Saturday, marking the next major action organized by March For Our Lives.

The forums with elected officials and their constituents are the result of a call to action issued March 25 by David Hogg, a 17-year-old survivor of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting and outspoken member of the #NeverAgain movement to end gun violence.

March For Our Lives partnered with Town Hall Project, a volunteer-based initiative that identifies and promotes congressional forums, to help students organize each event, known as a “Town Hall For Our Lives.”

By Friday afternoon, there were more than 120 Town Hall For Our Lives events listed on Town Hall Project’s website, with over 30 Democratic members of Congress having organized or accepted invitations to the forums. 

But their Republican counterparts failed to accept a single invitation to a Town Hall For Our Lives, causing the bulk of the events to be planned as “empty chair” town halls, in which the invited lawmakers aren’t expected to show up.

To be sure, the organizing process behind Town Hall For Our Lives appeared less seamless than that of March For Our Lives, the massive student-led protest against gun violence held nearly two weeks ago in Washington, D.C., and other cities worldwide.

Over a dozen events were added to Town Hall Project’s website just days before April 7, which could make it difficult for some lawmakers to rearrange their schedules given such short notice. In one case, a retired congressman was listed as having been invited, though it was unclear why.

HuffPost reached out to all of the roughly 90 Republican members of Congress who were invited to a Town Hall For Our Lives, as listed on Town Hall Project’s website. Ten responded.

Representatives for six of the Republican lawmakers who responded to HuffPost’s request for comment ― Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio) and Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Lou Barletta (Pa.), Bob Goodlatte (Va.) and Jim Renacci (Ohio) ― cited scheduling conflicts as their reasons for being unable to participate. All but one of those spokespeople did not respond when asked if the lawmakers planned to host a town hall on gun violence at a later date.

“We don’t have any town halls on the calendar but certainly [are] open to hosting a productive forum to talk about it,” a spokeswoman for Renacci told HuffPost in an email.

A spokeswoman for Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) told HuffPost that “no invite was extended,” but that he would be unable to attend either way because of a scheduling conflict. Two students organizing separate town halls in Texas disputed her statement.

The necessity for dialogue between constituency and representative transcends ideology and party identity.
Chris Pino, senior at Seven Lakes High School in Katy, Texas

Chris Pino, an 18-year-old senior at Seven Lakes High School in Katy, Texas, told HuffPost that the spokeswoman’s statement that Olson was never invited to a Town Hall For Our Lives was “simply not true.”

“I have reached out to him and his office on at least four occasions throughout the past week, both by phone and email,” Pino told HuffPost in an email on Thursday. “Each of those times, I received no definitive response. Today, I finally received a definitive response, which was a no.”

“The necessity for dialogue between constituency and representative transcends ideology and party identity,” Pino wrote. “Although elected officials and many of their constituents will disagree on some grounds, dissent in opinion is not a mark of division; rather, it is a building block for unity and for bridging the partisan divide. Simply stated, we must work together in order to succeed as a nation.”

A spokeswoman for Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) said his office never received an invitation to a Town Hall For Our Lives, despite the listing on Town Hall Project’s website. HuffPost was unable to connect with an organizer to verify that an invitation was sent. Womack’s spokeswoman did not respond when asked if he planned to attend or host a town hall on gun violence at a later date.

One Republican congressman was decidedly against participating in the town halls for a different reason. Tyler Sandberg, a spokesman for Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), said the lawmaker would not attend the Town Hall For Our Lives he was invited to because of its connection to ProgressNow Colorado, a progressive political advocacy organization.

“By all means, young folks should speak their mind,” Coffman told HuffPost in an email. “But this rally is being organized by ProgressNow — a hate-inspired partisan group looking to raise money and win elections, not solve problems. Mike has no interest associating with the smear merchants at ProgressNow. He is seeking solutions, not stunts.”

Coffman’s position was “very disheartening” to Ian Gaskins, a 17-year-old junior at Mountain Range High School in Westminster, Colorado, and an organizer of the Town Hall For Our Lives that had invited Coffman.

Gaskins acknowledged that ProgressNow helped Never Again Colorado, a student-led anti-gun-violence group, organize the town hall. But he said he had no idea why Sandberg would call the organization “hate-inspired.”

“We are working with other groups just because we haven’t done this before,” Gaskins told HuffPost. “Just because we’re getting help, doesn’t mean it’s not our event. … We are just students who want to be safe in our schools.”

A spokesman for Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) told HuffPost that he is “unable to attend” a Town Hall For Our Lives, but noted he led a roundtable Thursday about school safety with school officials and members of local law enforcement.

Not every Democratic lawmaker responded to the Town Hall For Our Lives invitations either. Roughly 20 of them who had been invited had not yet confirmed their attendance as of Friday afternoon, according to Town Hall Project’s website. A much smaller number of Democratic members of Congress were invited to these town halls, likely because they are traditionally already in favor of gun reform legislation. However, a handful of them hosted related forums earlier in the week.

Florida Rep. Ted Deutch (D) was one of the dozens of Democratic lawmakers to heed Hogg’s call to action. Deutch hosted a Town Hall For Our Lives on Tuesday. It drew over 1,000 people to the Coral Springs Center for the Arts ― just 3 miles down the road from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. 

Many students, parents and community members encouraged the 17 elected officials present at Deutch’s town hall, including mayors and state legislators, to pursue stricter gun laws in the wake of the Feb. 14 Parkland massacre. A handful of gun rights advocates showed up to the event as well.

“Their argument is that guns don’t kill people, that bad people kill people,” Coral Springs Commissioner Dan Daley said after a pro-gun attendee heckled him from the crowd. “Why would you want to make it easy for a bad person to get a gun?”

Jimmy Dahman, executive director of Town Hall Project and a former organizer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, called the students’ efforts “incredibly inspiring.”

“These students have shown great determination in wanting to engage in the democratic process,” Dahman told HuffPost. “It’s elected officials’ responsibility to listen to their constituents.”

“Democracy is best served when the people show up,” he added.

Visit Town Hall Project’s website for an hour-by-hour updated list of Town Hall For Our Lives events.

Black Parkland Students Want Peers To ‘Share The Mic’

Black students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are calling out the March for Our Lives movement ― at once commending the teens leading it for their efforts to be inclusive and pushing them to go a step further by sharing the spotlight with their own black peers.

“We’re saying you don’t see much of us at the forefront,” 17-year-old junior Mei-Ling Ho-Shing, who is black, told HuffPost earlier this week.

Ho-Shing’s classmates at the front of the student-led anti-gun violence movement, like David Hogg and Emma González, have been rightfully celebrated for their moves toward inclusivity. They’ve met with young activists of color from communities where gun violence is more pervasive, featured a diverse array of speakers at their rally in D.C., and used their massive Twitter platforms to highlight issues like black communities being disproportionately affected by gun violence. In many ways, they mark a new generation of activists aiming to be fiercely intersectional.

Still, some black students at the school in Parkland, Florida, where a gunman killed 17 people in February, contend that the student activists haven’t quite practiced this inclusivity in their own backyards, and have not gone far enough to include black teens from their own school, and nearby areas where gun violence is more prevalent, at the center of their movement.

“It hurts, because they went all the way to Chicago to hear these voices when we’re right here,” Ho-Shing said, referring to a gathering last month where March for Our Lives leaders met with teens of color from a Chicago school to discuss gun violence. “We go to school with you every day.”

While nearly 40 percent of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s 3,000 or so students are nonwhite, including 11 percent who are black, the students at the forefront of the March for Our Lives ― and those getting most media attention ― are largely nonblack, including David Hogg and Cameron Kasky, who are white, and Emma González, who is Latina.

“David Hogg, we’re proud of him, but he mentioned he was going to use his white privilege to be the voice for black communities, and we’re kind of sitting there like, ‘You know there are Stoneman Douglas students who could be that voice,’” Ho-Shing told HuffPost.

At a press conference last week, around half a dozen black students from the high school, including Ho-Shing, gathered to say that the media and their peers weren’t sufficiently hearing their perspectives.

“We feel like people within the movement have definitely addressed racial disparity, but haven’t adequately taken action to counteract that racial disparity,” Tyah-Amoy Roberts, a junior who also spoke at the press conference, told Refinery29. She noted that March for Our Lives leaders had not invited her to meetings. “They’ve been saying, but they haven’t been doing,” she said.

After last week’s press conference, Ho-Shing said González had reached out to talk, but as of earlier this week, there were still no specific plans to meet, exchange ideas or join forces. 

HuffPost reached out to March for Our Lives, but did not receive a response as of this posting.  

Black students at Stoneman Douglas have a key perspective to add to the March For Our Lives movement, partly because many of them don’t live in the largely white, affluent and safe area around the school, Ho-Shing noted. In many cases, they have intimate connections, through family and friends, with communities of color that more commonly suffer from gun violence. 

“The problem [is] with having the leadership at the forefront having the same experience growing up in a neighborhood that’s safe and wealthy, where gun violence is not,” said Ho-Shing, who lives in the nearby town of Coconut Creek, where the median household income is less than half that of Parkland’s. While she hasn’t experienced gun violence herself, she has family and grew up going to church in nearby North Lauderdale, where it is a significant issue.

“We just want to share the mic,” she added.

Ho-Shing and her peers of color also recognize their own relative privilege as teens attending a school that has gotten significant public attention, as well as resources like therapy dogs and social workers, since the shooting. They are hoping to extend their platform to other black and brown teens in surrounding areas, like Miami’s Liberty City, who face gun violence on a more regular basis.

“We’re unlucky that this happened to us, but … we’re only experts of Feb. 14, in fourth period,” Ho-Shing said, referring to the time of the Parkland shooting. “Our friends and family at other schools are scared, and maybe only have one social worker. We can’t sit there and listen to that and be OK with it.”

Ho-Shing and others say the news media has played a significant role in elevating the platforms of the largely nonblack leaders of March for Our Lives while leaving out the voices of their black peers. She noted that major news features, like the Time Magazine cover or “60 Minutes” interview, had not included black students.

“You can’t blame them for how big they got,” Ho-Shing said of her now-famous peers. “We’re definitely going to start talking to them, because this is not a divisive thing.”

While Ho-Shing felt it was a shame that black students had needed a press conference to be heard by media and the movement leaders at their school, she was confident her peers would be more inclusive moving forward.

“At the end of the day, we’re all fighting the same thing,” Ho-Shing said. “Black Lives Matter, March for Our Lives ― we’re all fighting gun violence, point blank, period.”

New England Patriots Player And Assistant Help Thwart School Shooting Threat

With the devastating school shooting in Parkland, Florida, fresh on their minds, New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman and his assistant Shannen Moen acted quickly and may have helped prevent a potential school shooter. 

One of Edelman’s Instagram followers sent him a direct message on March 25, according to the team, alerting the football player to a threatening message in the comments section of one of his posts.

“Dude there is a kid in your comment section saying he s [sic] going to shoot up a school, i [sic] think you should alert the authority,” a screenshot of the comment read.

Edelman contacted Moen, who found the comment posted beneath a photo Edelman had shared of himself and former teammate Danny Amendola.

“I’m going to shoot my school up watch the news,” the comment read, according to The New York Times.

Moen contacted authorities, who responded quickly and traced the comment back to a house in Port Huron, Michigan. An article on the Patriots’ website said a 14-year-old boy had confessed to police that he wrote the threat. He was taken to a juvenile detention center and charged with making a false report of a threat of terrorism. Two rifles belonging to the boy’s mother were found in the home.

In an interview with the Times, Edelman thanked the fan who alerted him to the threatening message. He also spoke of how the Parkland school shooting has continued to occupy his thoughts.

Last month, the Patriots loaned the team’s plane out to fly families of the Parkland victims, as well as students injured in the attack, from Florida to Washington, D.C., so they could attend the March For Our Lives protests. Seventeen students and educators were killed in the Feb. 14 mass shooting.

Final Parkland Shooting Survivior Released From Hospital

Anthony Borges is finally home.

More than a month and a half after a gunman shot and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the 15-year-old student has been released from the hospital where he was treated for five gunshot wounds. 

One-third of Borges’ lung was removed due to impact of one of the bullets, and another came dangerously close to his liver, the “Today” show reported Wednesday during an interview with Borges. The other three bullets hit his legs.

Borges held his classroom door shut as bullets tore through it, preventing gunman Nikolas Cruz, 19, from entering the room full of about 20 people. He has been hailed by fellows students and teachers as a hero.

Borges spoke softly during the “Today” interview due to the extent of his injuries. He told program host Kerry Sanders that he did not expect to survive the shooting. 

“I think I was going to die,” Borges said.

In March, family lawyer Alex Arreaza said Borges was unable to walk and required assistance constantly. But Borges’ father told Sanders that he hopes his son will eventually be well enough to return to playing soccer.

The Borges family announced in early March that it planned to sue the school district and law enforcement for failing to protect Stoneman Douglas students.

GoFundMe page to help cover the cost of the teen’s recovery has raised nearly $800,000 out of a $1 million goal (surpassing the initial goal of $700,000). His family moved out of their apartment on his doctor’s orders because the stairs were too much for Borges, Sanders reported.

HuffPost reached out to Arreaza for comment but did not immediately receive a response.  

Parkland Students Protest Clear Backpacks With Tampons And $1.05 Price Tags

When survivors of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting returned to classes after spring break on Monday, they were met with a slew of new security measures, including a widely resented policy: mandatory clear backpacks for everyone.

Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people were killed in a mass shooting in February, were quick to express their disdain for their new accessory.

Junior Cameron Kasky stuffed his backpack with tampons on Tuesday to protest what students have called an invasion of privacy.

Senior Carmen Lo took a jab at Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and the National Rifle Association by hanging a $1.05 orange price tag on her bag ― the value of the donations Rubio has accepted from the NRA divided by the number of students in Florida. “This backpack is probably worth more than my life,” read a note that Lo had penned and stuffed inside her bag.

The idea of using clear backpacks in schools as a way to prevent gun violence is not new. Schools across the country have enforced similar rules since at least the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.

But Stoneman Douglas students — many of whom have led a national call for stricter gun control — say the measure is only window dressing and does not actually address the problem of gun violence.

“I hate the backpacks, and I think they solve nothing,” Alyssa Goldfarb, a 16-year-old sophomore, told Vice News. “It’s more of a way of the county saying, ‘Hey, we’re doing something.’”

As students pushed back against the new backpack rule this week, Robert Runcie, the superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, said the policy was “an initial measure, not a permanent one.”

He told the Sun-Sentinel that the district may eventually allow other backpacks and that officials were determining the best methods to keep students safe in the long term, including the possible use of metal-detecting wands.

A district spokeswoman told the paper that officials were still exploring the idea of using such wands. “No decision or date has been set for [their] use,” she said.

Besides the backpacks, other security measures — including increased police presence and a requirement that students wear an ID tag at all times — have been introduced at Stoneman Douglas since the February massacre.

Though some students say they do feel safer with the new policies in place, several said this week that the school environment now feels stifling and “like jail.” 

“I definitely feel safer, but in no way is school going to be a place of cognitive education and creativity when it feels like a jail cell,” junior Jack Macleod told CNN.

Domestic Abusers To Surrender Guns In NY

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Gun Control Advocates Hope Parkland Students Have Started A Movement, Not A Moment

WASHINGTON — Student activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School inspired hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets last month to call attention to gun violence. Many protesters seemed to have their sights set on this year’s midterm elections, as they carried signs alluding to their voting power and arguing that politicians backed by the National Rifle Association needed to be voted out of office. 

But anti-gun violence advocacy groups say there is one more test: whether the momentum that led students to organize the March For Our Lives in the nation’s capital can continue until Election Day in November. 

“The issue is, are kids going to show up to vote?” said Kris Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “Because that’s the banner of success for us.”

“We need to make sure when voters vote in November, that this is something they’re voting on,” said Shannon Watts, co-founder of Moms Demand Action.

Both Watts and Brown pointed to last year’s gubernatorial election in Virginia as a promising blueprint for electoral success. Exit polls showed that guns were the second most important issue for voters, behind only health care. Now-Gov. Ralph Northam (D), as well as Democratic candidates on the local level, used gun control as an issue to their advantage; Democrats and gun safety advocacy groups successfully made the NRA’s support for Northam’s opponent, Ed Gillespie, a political liability.

Stoneman Douglas students from Parkland, Florida, and the people they’ve inspired seem intent on keeping the issue of gun violence front and center in the coming weeks: Marches and rallies have continued, and there are plans for a nationwide school walkout on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre.

Victoria Kaplan, organizing director for, said she considers those steps “really strong indicators” that political engagement will continue through November — and perhaps far beyond.

For me, it was the Iraq War, when I was a senior in college, when I saw exactly how important political engagement was. I think for this generation, that’s happening through the lens of gun violence. The impact of that is going to ripple for years.
Peter Ambler, executive director and co-founder of Giffords

Many of these advocacy groups are now collaborating with the students on further political engagement, such as making it easier for them to attend lawmakers’ town halls — while bearing in mind that “they’re the ones with agency here,” said Peter Ambler, executive director of Giffords, the group co-founded by gun violence survivor and former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.).

“Given the failure of adults to protect kids, the kids are understandably suspicious of the adults, so it’s really important that you approach young people as partners,” Ambler said, noting that students planned the March For Our Lives without being asked. 

Several of the gun control advocates emphasized that the student activists have already started to build a sustainable, long-term political movement. The urgency and personal nature of the issue, they said, is likely to continue to motivate young people.

“This active shooter generation, they’re coming of age — and they’re pissed,” Ambler said.

Brown said frequent lockdown and mass shooter drills at schools around the country have shown kids what needs to change. 

“For many kids, this is how they grew up, and it’s a reminder, every time they go through it, of how little has been done to truly protect them,” Brown said. “The answer that the adults have put into place, they know, really, is not going to stop it from happening again.”

“I don’t see them just walking away from this,” she added. “This is something that’s deeply personal, like, ‘You’ve told me this is the way our government is supposed to work. I see that this is — pardon my French — a bastardization of it. Fix it, and if you’re not going to fix it, then get out of the way.’”

A major motivator is students’ visceral anger at “the corruption of our political system,” as Ambler characterized it.

“The NRA is a really good bad guy for folks, and kids naturally understand that money in politics has had insidious effects on the direction that our country takes politically,” he said. “It just seems obvious [to them].”

Kaplan noted that the Parkland students have tried to make their movement inclusive and show just how many people are regularly affected by gun violence: They have put attention on shootings in urban areas where people of color predominantly live, and have spoken out about their own experiences in mostly white suburban areas.

The students’ “complete frustration and almost righteous indignation” with the government, as Brown put it, has a recent historical parallel: activism against the Iraq War, which reshaped the Democratic Party and catalyzed a generation of progressive leaders.

It is too early to say whether students motivated by gun violence now will go on to run for office, but Ambler said he sees the seeds being planted.

“You’ve got a generation of Americans that is engaging politically for the very first time in their lives. We probably all remember that moment when politics became more significant for us, right?” he said. “For me, it was the Iraq War, when I was a senior in college, when I saw exactly how important political engagement was. I think for this generation, that’s happening through the lens of gun violence. The impact of that is going to ripple for years.”

Kaplan, who was also a college student during the anti-Iraq War movement, said she believes today’s students will stay active.

“Once young people start down this path, it’s hard to get off of it,” she said. “I think they’ve already determined their commitment and what it’s going to take to win, so really, it’s in their hands.”

Convicted Domestic Abusers Will No Longer Be Able To Own Guns In New York State

The New York State Legislature passed a bill last week that would prohibit convicted domestic abusers from buying and owning all guns.

“New York is once again leading the way to prevent gun violence, and with this common sense reform, break the inextricable link between gun violence and domestic violence,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said in a press release on Saturday. “This legislation builds on our gun laws ― already the strongest in the nation ― to make New York safer and stronger.”

Cuomo had advocated for the measure as part of his 2018 Women’s Agenda. It passed both houses of the legislature by wide margins: 85-32 in the State Assembly and 41-19 in the State Senate. 

The legislation requires convicted domestic abusers to surrender all firearms, closing a loophole in previous legislation that required abusers to surrender only handguns. In addition, New York law previously stated that domestic abusers convicted of a felony or a “serious” offense were prohibited from owning guns. The new measure adds some assault and battery charges to the list of applicable “serious” offenses. 

Laws like this address a very real problem across the country. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500 percent, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Every 16 hours, a woman in the U.S. is fatally shot by a current or former intimate partner, according to FBI and state crime data. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in a 2017 report that firearms were used in 54 percent of all female homicides. 

“The recent wave of mass shootings is horrifying, and the federal government’s failure to act on any form of meaningful gun safety laws is unconscionable,” Cuomo said in the press release.

In addition to reducing individual female homicides, the New York legislation could also prevent future mass shootings. The majority of mass shootings, defined as four or more people being fatally shot, involve domestic violence.  According to a 2017 report from NPR, 54 percent of mass shootings between 2009 and 2016 were carried out by someone who had previously committed violence against an intimate partner.

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