On Feb. 14, a day that should have been spent exchanging gifts and valentines, the American people watched in horror as yet another gunman, armed with the elusive AR 15 assault rifle, shot and killed 17 innocent students and teachers as they were attending what they imagined would be a normal day at school.
As a nation, the American people grieved for the unfortunate victims at Marjory Stone Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, and predictably, a discourse about gun violence erupted throughout the country soon after.
School shootings in America have become increasingly common, with 18 incidents this year alone, yet political parties have historically made conversations about gun control difficult. There was an added factor involved in this incident, however, that’s changing the national dialogue about gun violence and legislation in this country.
Students, who were raised on technology and the phenomenon of social media, did what was innate to them and uploaded gruesome videos of the shooting live to Snapchat, giving the nation a jarring look into the horrifying reality of a mass shooting as it was occurring. These videos quickly went viral on Facebook, as did tweets about the shooting in real time.
Warning: Video contains graphic content
The American people could now see the quivering hands of children pleading for their lives as crazed gunman, Nicholas Cruz, roamed the halls. They could hear the bloodcurdling screams of terrified high school kids as gunshots fired in the background.
These traumatic images put things into perspective for the majority of the American people. Suddenly, for most of the country, the dialogue had shifted from a politicized issue, with zealous ideologues on both sides, to a solution-oriented discussion on gun violence in the U.S.
In fact, it seems the only people still siding with the National Rifle Association are highly incentivized politicians in the Trump administration. Many of these shills, including president Trump himself, are spouting off the same, tired arguments about arming teachers and increasing security in schools. At the same time, they’re cutting taxpayer funding to education, meaning efforts to take the advice of these politicians would go entirely unfunded.
Students and gun-control advocates once again took to social media to expose the lunacy behind the Republican party and the NRA’s idea to arm schoolteachers. Critics of the proposal mocked it by sharing memes on Facebook and Instagram depicting teachers ridiculously pointing handguns while saying quotes like “You better spit that gum out, Tommy.”
Though memes are often known for their tendency to, at times, be somewhat crass, many underestimate their ability to spread messages through social media. This time, they are acting as a means to expose the ridiculous nature of Republican “solutions” to American gun violence.
In addition to memes spreading virally on social media, gun owners began speaking out in favor of a ban on assault weapons in the U.S. One video, which featuring an AR-15 owner destroying his once-coveted weapon with a saw following the shooting, reached huge audiences, as it was viewed nearly 6 million times and shared over 4,000 times.
Despite the groundswell of demand for reasonable gun-control legislation and a ban on assault weapons, Republican majority leaders have remained steadfast in their archaic views and interpretations of the Second Amendment.
Perhaps the most valuable part social media plays in advancing the American gun-control conversation, however, is the ease with which pertinent information is shared via social media outlets.
For instance, after discovering Florida senator Marco Rubio received over $3 million in donations from the NRA, Marjory Stone Douglas student Sarah Chadwick called him out in a tweet, saying, “We should change the names of AR-15s to ‘Marco Rubios’ because they are so easy to buy.”
The social-media phenomenon surrounding the shooting has led to students taking action. Cameron Kasky, a junior at Marjory Stone Douglas and survivor of the horrific mass shooting, confronted Rubio about allegations of his being bought off by NRA donors, namely because the information was so widely shared on social media.
In response, Rubio’s weakly constructed arguments supporting his decision to partner with an organization that enables the mentally ill to obtain weapons came off as witless and vulgar.
A huge factor in the stumbling responses of many reactionary politicians, such as Trump and Rubio, is that they’re unprepared to deal with this sort of attack. The public response has been unprecedented because, despite the fact that there were a few similar videos circulating on social media after the Vegas shooting, the American people have never been confronted with a mass shooting this viscerally in the past.
Social media is a medium used to inform and empower young people in the wake of this tragedy. Arming these kids with the facts is the key to winning the battle against gun violence in America; let’s face it, students get their facts from social media.
This revolutionary form of activism has spurned a movement in which kids are walking out of schools in protest of America’s lax gun laws. In response to the horrific incident, a massive rally quickly developed in Washington DC, largely promoted using various forms of social media.
Due to the fact that these students used tactics uniquely enmeshed within modern culture, reactionary pundits along with bought and sold politicians cannot use slight of hand to continue lying to the American people about gun control. The fact remains that gun violence reduced significantly during the decade-long assault weapons ban spanning from 1994 – 2004.
The facts about gun control’s effectiveness, partnered with the ease at which information is spread virally, are key to winning the gun control debate. Indeed, the most influential component to the dialogue was the initial Snapchat video that led the nation to heel in horror at the evil perpetrated on the fateful Wednesday afternoon.
Due to this new form of activism, real changes appear to be taking effect. Leaders in Florida, a historically red state that favors lax gun laws and the NRA, are beginning to write up new gun legislation that would make it more difficult for young and mentally ill people to access a gun.
Information about both the NRA funding politicians and corporations were so readily available via blogs and social media, as well as information about NRA being funded by gun manufacturers. As a result, powerful corporations like Hertz and MetLife have cut ties with the NRA.
It is projected that politicians are soon to follow. The NRA is losing its influence over policy and the voters; we can thank the innovative activism of some brave kids for these accomplishments.
The efforts of these students have been effective and amazing, especially after all they have endured. Social media helped connect these kids; the impact they made, as a result, was remarkable.