Image: Wikimedia Commons

“We are going to be the last school shooting,” the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivors say. At the rallies they lead for stricter gun control, and when they lobby lawmakers for stricter gun laws. Thousands of other students across Florida and the U.S. walked out in support of their call.

In the month since a 19-year-old with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle slaughtered 17 members of the MSD school community, the surviving students have reversed decades of National Rifle Association (NRA) tyranny. Major corporations are scrambling to dissociate their brand from the NRA. Victory! Organizing an NRA-ally boycott was the first step in the survivors’ strategy.

How can public opinion shift so quickly? Actually, it didn’t shift. The majority of Americans always favoured stricter gun laws. Maybe they saw a way to voice their rejection of guns. The majority of Americans also rejected Donald Trump (Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.8 million votes; Trump took office because of the Electoral College vote.) In the 2016 election, Trump accepted $30 million in contributions from or through the NRA. His fortunes would seem to be tied to theirs.

On the other hand, maybe we’re watching a massive public education program in progress. The speed of public opinion reversal reminds me of a story from my anti-nuke days, the story of the Hundredth Monkey. Here’s the Wikipedia account (which has been challenged, Wikipedia notes):

“Unidentified scientists were conducting a study of macaque monkeys on the Japanese island of Koshima in 1952. These scientists observed that some of these monkeys learned to wash sweet potatoes, and gradually this new behavior spread through the younger generation of monkeys — in the usual fashion, through observation and repetition.”

The kicker is that, in this story, “the researchers observed that once a critical number of monkeys was reached, i.e., the hundredth monkey, this previously learned behaviour instantly spread across the water to monkeys on nearby islands.” 

Opposing open gun use may be “learned behaviour” too. Existing gun safety groups have welcomed the surge in public concern and are doing their best to support Parkland survivors’ group. Moms Demand Action, for example, created Students Demand Action and recruited 115,000 members immediately. Social media sure extends recruiters’ reach.

March will be a busy month for U.S. youth. The Women’s March Youth EMPOWER group is calling for a 17-minute school walkout on March 14, a minute for each person killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

On March 24, organizers expect about half a million people to participate in the Washington, D.C. March for Our Lives. Parkland survivors have $3.7 million, raised in three days, to organize the event — $1.7 million raised on GoFundMe and $2 million in $500,000 donations from George and Amal Clooney, Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Look for support marches in cities across the U.S.

Everytown for Gun Safety has joined with assassination survivor Gabby Gifford’s group and billionaire Tom Steyer’s organization to co-ordinate a voting registration campaign aimed at high school students, starting March 25.

Here’s where the Hundredth Monkey effect comes in — when the anti-gun campaign meets national politics. Former Republican Senator David Jolly has already said publicly that the only way to achieve strict gun laws is to “Flip the House,” because Republicans have the majority in the House of Representatives, 238-193. And they vote the NRA line.

More, when Democrat Doug Jones defeated the GOP’s Roy Moore in Alabama, many observers took that as a sign the no Republican seat is safe in the next election. So far, 32 Republicans in Congress have announced that they are retiring or running for state Governor somewhere. On average, most House elections see about 22 vacancies.

“According to CNN ratings, 61 Republican seats are either toss-ups (15), leaning GOP (21) or likely GOP (25). Compare that to just 22 Democratic seats in any sort of jeopardy this fall and you begin to grasp the depth of Republican vulnerability,” CNN reported on January 30.

Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House totally depends on the results of the midterm elections. Republicans would never vote to impeach him, even if Robert Mueller’s legal team brings serious criminal charges against him. If Democrats gain control of Congress, however, impeachment looms large.

One factor is that hundreds of thousands of Americans already have had personal lessons in gun violence. Parkland saw the 18th school shooting of 2018. Everytown reports 301 school shootings since 2013. With mass shootings happening almost daily across the US, more and more Americans are directly affected.

Gun control is emerging as a key issue in the upcoming midterm elections on November 6. “Even as the latest school shooting rampage drove him to push for tighter gun laws, President Donald Trump issued a dire warning to conservatives,” reported CNBC. ‘Don’t get complacent, don’t get complacent,’ the president told the Conservative Political Action Conference last week. If Democrats win control of Congress in November, ‘they’ll take away your Second Amendment — which we will never allow it to happen.'”

So number 45 has tied himself firmly to gun violence. Even though the U.S. has 300 million guns in private hands, only about one thrid of the voters are gun owners. The Republicans hope that this month’s wave of anti-gun marches will peter out between March and Election Day. The Parkland youth, the other anti-gun groups and the Democrats will do their best to keep the issue alive, and to raise it again with every mass shooting. Still looking strong after a year, the #MeToo movement also bids to affect local elections, especially those where a candidate is one of the 26,000 women who in 2017 asked the feminist political school and funder, EMILY’s List, for help in running for office. 

Macaque monkeys in that one region, we’re told, universally adopted the habit of washing sweet potatoes in salty sea water, and never went back to eating them plain. Let’s see if U.S. voters have the same attention span.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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Penney Kome

Penney Kome

Award-winning journalist and author Penney Kome has published six non-fiction books and hundreds of periodical articles, as well as writing a national column for 12 years and a local (Calgary) column...