Juan Williams: Students change the tide on guns

“You fool, those students are actors.”

“You secretly like it when there is a mass shooting because it helps you push gun control!”

My email inbox has been under siege since 17 people were killed and 17 more injured last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

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The mass murder at this American school has put the National Rifle Association and gun manufacturers on the defensive as never before.

The reason is simple:

For the first time, high school and college students are the teary faces on the front line calling for gun control.

And they are shifting American public opinion.

“We don’t need to listen to President Trump. President Trump needs to listen to the screams of the children and the screams of this nation,” Parkland survivor David Hogg told HBO’s Bill Maher after the massacre.

Last week, students across the nation walked out of school and called on Congress to give up political contributions from the NRA and end easy access to guns.

What did Congress do?

The House passed a nothing-burger bill that same day. It was limited to a few dollars for metal detectors and other small school safety measures. Their bill did nothing to improve background checks, limit private gun sales or halt the sale of assault weapons.

Congressional Republicans are waiting on time to pass. They count on everyone calling for more gun control to get frustrated and go silent again.

That is the Trump strategy too. After the shooting, he held a televised listening session with politicians and later with parents of the dead and traumatized students.

He promised to take action by limiting the sale of rifles to people under 21, as well as strengthening background checks for gun buyers.

A few days later, in the face of NRA opposition, he threw those ideas out, saying there is no public support for them.

Wrong.

Polls show support for those steps at record highs. And the support is likely to keep growing because later this week thousands of students and their supporters from all over the country will be in Washington for the “March for our Lives.” The American people are with the marchers.

A Gallup poll taken earlier this month asked Americans if they felt current laws covering the sale of firearms should be stricter, less strict, or kept as they are now.

A whopping 67 percent said they should be made stricter, while just 4 percent favored making them less strict.

Those results track with a Quinnipiac University poll from this month that found that 66 percent of all Americans support stricter gun laws while 32 percent oppose. This is the highest support for tighter gun laws in a decade, even higher than after the mass murder of elementary school children in Newtown, Conn. in 2012.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) and the GOP-controlled legislature in his state got the message. They bucked the NRA by passing modest gun control legislation this month that raised the age of gun purchase from 18 to 21 and banned bump stocks.

Scott is widely expected to announce his bid for the U.S. Senate, challenging incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) in the coming days. He is one Republican who knows that he risks alienating independent voters in the Sunshine State if he is seen as tone deaf on gun control.

Meanwhile, the president told a room full of lawmakers, in front of television cameras, that he would like to “take the guns first, go through due process second.”

That must have been a moment of genuine frustration with gun violence. But it was only a moment; the president quickly returned to doing nothing but protecting the NRA.

On Capitol Hill, Republicans have decided they need NRA money to avoid a wipeout in the November midterm elections.

That’s why Congressional Republicans keep doing nothing; they believe they need the NRA more than the NRA needs them.

“Republicans will never do anything on gun control,” former Florida Republican Congressman David Jolly said after the Parkland shooting. “The idea of gun policy in the Republican Party is to try to get a speaking slot at the NRA and prove to that constituency that you are further right.”

Next month will mark the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado that left 15 people dead. Since then, the nation has endured the tragedy of mass shootings at Virginia Tech; in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut; and now Parkland.

I have covered the politics of guns in Washington, from the support for gun control after the shooting of White House Press Secretary James Brady to the rise of the NRA as a lobbying powerhouse.

The NRA still has deep pockets but they are no longer the loudest voices in the conversation.

Please, students, save us from this gun mania.

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