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Gun Control

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Our Lives Are Worth More Than $1.18 a Pop

The NRA values American lives at just over a dollar. In the wake of Parkland, Florida mothers and children, the fiercest gun-control activists, are engaged in a multi-pronged battle to trade bulletproof backpacks for real security.

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As gun violence continues to invade our schools, two factions of voters may soon tip the scales to reform: mothers and their children.

The students of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School set to work on gun reform after seeing their classmates gunned down in school, and parent-led activist groups are joining the movement that shows no sign of slowing.

After the Parkland shooting, Moms Demand Action, which is attacking gun violence from every angle imaginable, doubled in size in Florida, practically overnight. It has chapters all over the United States. Moms Demand Action offers phone apps alerting busy parents to gun regulation bills and making it easy to call legislators and voice opinions. They write scripts to enable those of us who get anxious thinking on their feet. They hold educational meetings and publish voting records, the NRA money trail, gun law comparisons, and update their following on every gun legislation change and gun violence story available. They’re even buying huge amounts of ad space in national newspapers to alert others to the fight. And parents are showing up in droves to support them.

“The main goal is to increase gun sense voters,” said Margaret Hamer, spokesperson for the Gainesville chapter. “The American people want change; the ballot is the way to accomplish that. The end goal is to vote everyone out of office who takes NRA money and to make an ‘A’ rating from the NRA something that you don’t put on your campaign literature. We need sensible gun legislation, not politicians who are in the pocket of the gun lobby.”

The group, which is five years old and a subsection of Everytown for Gun Safety, has workers on the ground organizing and participating in resistance events, including the March for Our Lives tour, which hit Gainesville, Florida, last week.

Three hundred people crammed into the Women’s Club in downtown Gainesville, and students handed each of them an orange price tag that read $1.18.

“We took the money the NRA donated to all politicians, then divided it by the number of students in the United States,” said Marjorie Stoneman Douglas student Gavin Pinto. “This is what our lives are worth to them.”

The first five rows were composed only of students and their families, and chair after chair of fresh-faced teenagers chatting to their friends and texting on their phones soon turned into throngs of townspeople: senior citizens, professionals who’d gotten out of work early, and parents with their young children in tow.

“I’m afraid someone is going to get me,” said 10-year-old Jaime Zelaya, when I asked his mother how she felt about the monthly lockdown drills in our area schools. “I like the lockdown drills because they make me feel like maybe school is safe again.”

His parents, Maria and Jaime Sr., said they brought their son to the event because he needs to be aware of what is going on since it affects him. As a high-school teacher, Maria knows fear from both ends.

“These kids have a lot to say, and they want adults to listen to them, and they deserve that courtesy,” she said. “They are here getting people to vote, which is really the responsible thing to do. They’ve thought about this a lot and been through so much.”

Rachel Cavena stood on the outskirts with her almost-2-year-old on her hip. “I think these students are going to do whatever it takes to get gun reform, and I’m here for it,” she said. “This little one,” she said, pointing to her toddler, “is already a pro at protests and demonstrations; it’s sad she has to be out there fighting for her life when it’s barely begun.”

Indeed, more and more parents are bringing their children to political events, particularly those surrounding the March for Our Lives. Experts say it can help families frame these heavy issues in a positive way for their young ones.

Anne Schentrup brought her entire family to the event, taking up nearly a whole row. A Gainesville local, she is a relative of Carmen Schentrup, one of the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting.

“It’s always at the forefront of our minds when we send our kids to school,” Schentrup said. “Now the first thing we think about when we look at schools for the children to go to is, ‘What are the chances?,’” she trailed off. “My daughter told me she was scared to go to school every day after that.”

Many parents have that same fear, whether or not their families have personally suffered from gun violence. Schentrup says school shootings are mobilizing her family and the community at large in ways never before thought possible. And moms in particular are showing up in force.

Another political group of moms, MomsRising, spreads its efforts across multiple platforms, including immigration reform, women’s health, maternity and child-care issues, and gun control. These women are angry, and they’re protecting their kids. They post #5actions every week for busy parents to easily make change on various issues. They also show others how to organize movements and attack policymakers in a way that could result in real change. What’s more, they’re not just shouting into the abyss: Moms are promising to be a powerful force come the midterms.

“The Road to Change Tour energizes a growing movement. Seeing kids give up their summer vacations to promote change is inspiring,” Hamer said. “The tour and discussions of gun violence have already had a tangible impact on future elections. Youth voter registration is up 40 percent in Florida since Parkland, and research shows that early voters are lifelong voters. The time is long past to break the stranglehold of the NRA on American politics. They do not represent the will of the American people.”

The true goal of the tour, the Gainesville arm of which was facilitated by a number of groups including Indivisible, Moms Demand Action, Students Demand Action, and March for Our Lives, is to increase voter registration numbers, but even those who will be too young to vote for some time spoke eloquently at the podium.

“You pretend it’s about the Second Amendment, but it’s really about profit,” shouted a sixth-grader from Lincoln Middle School into the microphone. She was reading her open letter to Governor Rick Scott. “You are responsible for the many deaths in Florida, and one day I will take your job.”

The crowd jumped to their feet in applause.

We live in a nation where elected “pro-life” officials cash in on children’s lives for $1.18 a piece. But now kids, together with their parents, are fighting back, forced to make the worth of their lives known.

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