Video by Ford Fischer
Story and Photos by Alejandro Alvarez
Two days after a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, anti-gun activists took their demands to the doors of their public enemy number one: the National Rifle Association.
Candles dimly lit the sidewalk as people huddled on both sides of the highway for an evening vigil. Some held signs pleading with the NRA to “stop putting weapons in the hands of killers,” while others simply said “enough.” Anger and frustration over the status quo abounded. One person put it: “instead of love and prayers, let’s do action and change policy.”
The Broward County Sheriff’s office and the FBI fielded – and evidently overlooked – dozens of warnings about Nikolas Cruz’s instability and intent. He was known to local law enforcement as a troublemaker, allegedly had a history of abusing women, and regularly posted photos of dead animals and weapons on social media. A YouTube comment posted last year under Cruz’s name said he wished to be a “professional shooter,” and Cruz was easily able to acquire an AR-15 rifle even given a long history of mental illness.
Despite all the red flags, 17 people – high school students, a football coach, an athletic director – lay dead after a sudden and chaotic rampage in the halls of another public school in America. It’ll reignite a process the country is all too familiar with: 19 years after Columbine, there will be calls for thoughts and prayers, politicians will squabble about what constitutes a solution and what misses the point, and invariably, the rage will subside from the headlines and the status quo will stand until another massacre someday reboots the cycle.
The prevailing attitude this time, ever more urgently, is that something needs to be done, somehow – but there’s disagreement on what that change would look like. Should the government restrict access to guns, or overhaul mental healthcare? Should they preemptively pursue and apprehend people harboring violent impulses, or do they solve a deficit in public security by simply arming everyone? Many Americans support different types of stricter gun laws, but not everybody is convinced that they would curtail America’s mass shooting epidemic.
The hundred gathered outside the NRA saw gun policy reform as the best hope to break the cycle of violence. Some saw the NRA, the nation’s largest gun advocate, as complicit in the Parkland shooting by lobbying politicians like Florida’s own Senator Marco Rubio to block gun control legislation.
Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly, after consoling emotional vigil-goers, expressed frustration with his colleagues’ inaction and floated three measures he called a start: an assault weapons ban, universal background checks, and an end to the “gun show loophole.”
Beside the podium, a friend of one of the Stoneman shooting victims wept. “I’m burying my best friend next week, I cheered with one of these guys,” she said. “Now I have to bury my best friend. I grew up with him, I lost one of my best friends because of something that could have been stopped.”