A Year After Parkland, Democrats and Activists Celebrate Long-Awaited Gun Reform Progress

February 14, 2019

By Carlo Versano and Chloe Aiello

A day before the anniversary of the Parkland shooting, a massacre that re-framed the debate over gun control as a defining cause of Gen Z, Congress advanced its first piece of gun legislation in decades.

A universal background check bill was approved by the House Judiciary Committee in a 23-15 party-line vote ー sending it to the House floor. It marked the opening salvo in a Democratic push on gun control that was reinvigorated by the activism of the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which lost a total of 17 students and staff members in a mass shooting one year ago.

Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a newly elected Democrat from a Parkland-adjacent district who sits on that committee, told Cheddar on Thursday that the bill passed despite intransigence from Republican lawmakers, who were "doing everything and anything possible to delay it."

For Mucarsel-Powell, an immigrant from Ecuador, the issue of gun violence is deeply personal. Her father was shot and killed by an armed criminal in her home country. She made gun control a cornerstone of her campaign to unseat Rep. Carlos Curbelo in Florida's ultra-competitive 26th district.

It worked.

"A year ago, the state of Florida lost its soul," Mucarsel-Powell said. She met with Parkland families in the aftermath, which helped galvanize her resolve to put gun violence front and center in her campaign. "When you meet other family members who lost their loved ones in the same way, it just brings everything back," she said.

She gave credit for the progress in the House on the background check bill to the students-turned-activists from MSD who lobbied Congress to make the epidemic of gun violence a legislative priority.

Rep. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat who represents parts of Broward County, said the nation is now looking to Florida as a leader in school safety and gun control ー but the fight is far from over.

"Let's be honest, people are tired of the thoughts and the prayers. They're great, but at the end of the day, people want action," Jones told Cheddar. "We have become stalled, because, truth be told, the gun lobby is holding Florida hostage."

Cameron Kasky, a survivor who co-founded the grassroots group Never Again MSD after last year's shooting and helped organize the March for Our Lives nationwide protest, was invited by his representative to attend this year's State of the Union. He told Cheddar that night:

"President Trump can declare a crisis at the border all he wants," but the real "national crisis" is gun violence in schools.

That activism helped propel Democrats to the majority, Mucarsel-Powell said, adding that gun control has gained new urgency for her fellow Democrats.

"They have to hold all of us accountable," she said. "We need their voices."

It seems Gen Z is up to the challenge.

A group of 200 teen reporters from across the country are cementing the legacy of the Parkland victims by ensuring children lost to gun violence are never forgotten. In partnership with The Trace and Miami Herald, they've documented the names and stories of an estimated 1,200 children killed by gun violence in the past 12 months for the project, called Since Parkland.

Sokhna Fall, a high school senior from Jamaica, Queens, who has been working on the project since August, called the process "traumatic," but said she felt an obligation to act.

"Teens are one of the demographics who are most impacted by gun violence in America, especially when it involves school shootings, so I felt kind of like an obligation as a teenager myself to act and do something about this," Fall said, adding that she began to see herself in the victims whose lives she was chronicling.