Sandy Hook should’ve been the end. But here’s why the Florida shooting really might be.

parkland shooting stoneman douglas survivors


As the voices of survivors of the Florida school shooting continue to reverberate around the world, there is one phrase that keeps coming up: this is different.

This time, it feels different.

Shootings usually fall into a, sadly, predictable cycle. The news breaks. Politicians share their condolences. The NRA declares it is ‘too soon’ to discuss gun violence. Interest spikes for two days. And within a week – maybe two, at best – it begins to fade into the oblivion of Wikipedia, providing little more than heated dinner party conversation and hurling the fight for gun control back to square one.

We saw this pattern when a white supremacist killed nine people in a historic Charleston black church in 2015. We saw it when a masked gunman opened fire in 2012 at cinema screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, killing 12. We saw it when a man shot dead 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando in 2016. We even saw it at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, when 20 little children and 6 staff were murdered.

Protesters rally on February 21 in Washington. Image: Getty.

But it has now been almost two weeks since a 19-year-old allegedly walked into his old school in Parkland, Florida, with a semi-automatic rifle and began shooting students and staff. Seventeen people, including 14 students, lost their lives. Another 14 were injured. The suspect, Nikolas Cruz, was arrested shortly after he shuffled out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, pretending to be just another terrified teenager. The Valentine's Day massacre became the 18th school shooting of 2018.

Google search data provides a snapshot into how public attention evolves. The below graph shows the number of searches in the US for "gun control" versus "gun shop" over a month-long period around the Sandy Hook school massacre, which occurred on December 12, 2012.


Compare this to the volume of "gun control" and "gun shop" searches in the weeks surrounding the Parkland school shooting.

Both shootings were terrible tragedies. Both involved young "lone wolves" armed with semi-automatic rifles. Both caused the deaths of innocent children and teachers.

So what is the difference this time that has clutched public interest?

It comes down to the teenagers. Teenagers who are fed up with waiting for adults to make changes. Teenagers who through their broken hearts and gritted teeth are taking matters into their own hands.

Watch survivors of the Florida school shooting speak in the video below.

Video by Wibbitz

Barely 24 hours after the shooting, crowds were chanting "no more guns" at a vigil on Thursday. Since then, Stoneman Douglas students, still raw from the trauma, descended en masse to the state's capital. They have called for action on gun control, bellowing the mantras "enough" and "never again". They have organised nationwide school walkouts and rallies, including the upcoming March For Our Lives in Washington DC. They have fiercely lobbied lawmakers, challenged politicians who accept NRA donations and even held a listening session with President Donald Trump at the White House.

These kids are not messing around.

Some have become so vocal, their names are being etched into public memory.

emma gonzalez full speech
Emma Gonzalez. Image: Getty.

Seventeen-year-old Emma Gonzalez captured the world's attention after she delivered an 11-minute speech at an anti-gun rally in Fort Lauderdale two days after the shooting.

"If all our government and President can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see," Emma said.

"We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks. Not because we’re going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America, but because we are going to be the last mass shooting... That’s going to be Marjory Stoneman Douglas in that textbook and it’s going to be due to the tireless effort of the school board, the faculty members, the family members and most of all the students."

Today, she has more followers on Twitter than the NRA.

Her classmate, 16-year-old Alfonso Calderon, tugged at our hearts when he spoke at a CNN Town Hall and reminded the audience they were "just kids".

"It’s difficult to talk about this sort of thing because not more than a week ago, I was worried about a math test. I was worried about having a school show for the children at the elementary school just a road down," he said.

"But I want everybody here today to know, we will not be discouraged. We will not falter. We will not stop this movement. Because this is more than just us. This is everybody in America. This is for every single kid who fears for their life."

And 17-year-old David Hogg has been courageously fronting the media despite being the subject of a conspiracy theory smear campaign labelling him a "crisis actor".

The list of students goes on. And on.

It's extraordinary.

But also not altogether surprising. These are teenagers who watched as the news broke in December 2012 that six- and seven-year-olds had been murdered at a primary school in Conneticut. At the time, these teenagers were only little kids themselves. They were terrified. And instead of seeing a change to gun laws that would make them feel safe, they returned to school and were taught "active shooter" drills. They were left to fear that they, too, would someday find themselves stepping over the dead bodies of their classmates.

And almost six years later, they were forced to do just that.

So, through the fog of grief for lost friends and teachers, these teenagers are allowing their deep-seated anger to push things forward.

And slowly but surely, it's working.

President Donald Trump has already vowed to ban bump stocks (these can essentially turn rifles into machine guns), has suggested he could endorse raising the minimum age of gun purchases from 18 to 21 and expanding background checks. And this is coming from a man who took a US$21 million donation from the NRA.

LISTEN: Amelia Lester explains why the aftermath of the Florida school shooting might lead to change. Post continues after audio.

The First Lady, Melania Trump, has said she feels "heartened to see children across this country using their voices to speak out and try to create change".

"They are out future and they deserve a voice," Ms Trump said.

Multi-million dollar businesses, like United Airlines, Best Western Hotels and Hertz, have withdrawn their support for the NRA. Even Marco Rubio has conceded he would support strengthening certain gun laws.

One woman, who lost her six-year-old brother in the Sandy Hook massacre, said she could "feel that this time is different" in a piece for the Huffington Post.

"Unlike my brother’s elementary school peers, who were unable to fully grasp what had happened in their school on December 14, 2012, the teenagers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas are speaking out on behalf of themselves and their classmates whose lives were violently cut short. They are giving a voice to the voiceless. And they are demanding change in a way we’ve never seen before."

The father of a victim from the Columbine school shooting, where 15 people died, feels it too.

"I feel something different with this last tragedy. I hear a different tone from politicians," said Darrell Scott, according to The Denver Post.

It will be weeks before we know if this momentum will be enough to effectively spark a tightening of gun laws. But it's the best chance the USA has had since 2012. Stoneman Douglas could be the turning point that Sandy Hook should have been all those years ago. And we have a group of exceptional and fierce teenagers to thank.

You can follow Sophie Aubrey on Twitter.



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