A small group of teenagers from Parkland, Florida, with no organizing experience or money has single-handedly energized the national movement for gun control after the Valentine’s Day mass shooting at their high school. Now long-established anti-gun groups with funds and influence are planning to harness that momentum in the months leading up to the midterm elections.
National organizations such as Everytown for Gun Safety, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence say they have seen their membership and mailing lists skyrocket by double-digit percentages since the shooting.
Saturday, with hundreds of thousands of people expected to demonstrate in Washington and around the country in support of their cause, the groups are planning to seize the moment by registering participants to vote and encouraging them to elect like-minded lawmakers in November.
“This is about developing a grass-roots army and once these people train their sights on you, you’re in trouble,” said Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
So far this year, the number of people who’ve participated in protests against gun violence is already double what it was for all of last year, according to data from protest tracker Count Love. The student-led National School Walkout on March 14, for example, drew at least 19,000 participants.
That’s spilling over into support for established groups, which have documented soaring support for their cause.
Everytown, a nonprofit backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that is co-sponsoring the march, has seen a nearly 30 percent increase in its mailing list in just the past month, even though the organization has been building that list for more than a decade, according to Shannon Watts, the founder of affiliated group Moms Demand Action.
“We’ve had nearly 200,000 new volunteers join us since Parkland,” Watts said. “We have had over 1.5 million new members join our mailing list, bringing the total to 4.5 million.”
The Brady Campaign, whose goal is to reduce “gun deaths in half by 2025,” also saw membership growth, according to co-president Avery Gardiner. She said the group had to add “21 chapters,” bringing it to 94 nationwide, a roughly 29 percent increase.
The organization threw a sign-making party and other events in support of Saturday’s March for Our Lives, and will be on hand to greet marchers, she said.
“We have a permit for gathering a spot near the march where we’ll be meeting supporters from D.C. and busloads from outside D.C. — we’ll be providing them with signs and getting them psyched up for the events that are happening,” she said.
Everytown — which spends tens of millions each year pushing for limits on guns — offered a $2.5 million grant program earlier this month to fund the nearly 700 marches happening simultaneously Saturday outside Washington, as well as logistics for permits and volunteers to help the March for Our Lives organizers.
Horwitz, of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said the Parkland students have forced gun violence prevention into the political realm in a new way.
“Let’s just put it this way: There’s not a minute that went by in my office over the last month where someone hasn’t been calling to get some information about the issue or how to volunteer or how to go to the march,” Horwitz said. “So the voices of the Parkland students supercharges that movement, and it brings gun violence prevention to the front of every political discussion in America right now.”
His organization and groups such as the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence are looking to train young activists on gun control policies, as well as encouraging them to vote, so they can put more pressure on politicians to promote and stand by gun law reform.
The Florida group, in fact, is offering free memberships to students and registering the young protesters. “There’s almost 1.8 million in Florida between ages 18 to 24, and the majority of them aren’t registered to vote,” co-chairwoman Patti Brigham said. “We’re working hard on getting an amendment on the ballot this year, and we want the power of these young people’s voices at the ballot box.”
The organizations aren’t expecting an immediate change in current lawmakers’ attitudes on guns. Instead, they’re focusing on changing the makeup of Congress.
“As far as the makeup of Congress, yeah, you’ve seen some Republicans jump in front of some bills and say, ‘We really need to do something,’ but I don’t think that’s enough to sort of change the entire institution,” Horwitz said. “I think you need new members to change that institution, and I think that’s what people are focused on. People are sick of waiting, and they’re sick of empty gestures of thoughts and prayers without action.”