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Four years after the Parkland shooting, advocates urge lawmakers to take action on gun control

Students in "March For Our Lives" shirts sat in the House Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence on Feb. 6.
Jose Luis Magana
In this file photo, students in "March For Our Lives" shirts sat in the House Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence on Feb. 6, 2019.

It’s been four years since survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School sparked an international movement calling for an end to gun violence. Since then, more than 100,000 Americans have been killed with guns. Advocates with the group March For Our Lives say lawmakers’ inaction is costing people their lives.

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Survivors of the Parkland shooting and their family members wanted to send lawmakers a message they couldn’t ignore. Last week, they used more than 1,000 body bags to spell out the words “thoughts and prayers” on the National Mall.

It’s a phrase that’s often repeated by elected officials after deadly shootings and that rings hollow to survivors of gun violence and their families, as the number of victims continues to rise day after day, year after year.

Looking out the windows of the U.S. Capitol, activists hoped members of Congress would see row upon row of body bags, looking all too real, and find the political will to pass gun control measures.

“We hope that seeing body bags on the National Mall will move their conscience. And if it doesn't, we do have to ask, what would?” said March For Our Lives press secretary Noah Lumbantobing.

“If thinking about the thousands of children's lives who've been lost in the last few years … doesn't move you to take action, we have to wonder what will.”

According to the organization, more than 170,000 Americans have died from gun violence since the Parkland shooting, citing data from the Gun Violence Archive.

“This is a question of life and death — for children, for adults,” Lumbantobing said. “There isn't a community in the country that isn't touched by gun violence. This isn't a left issue or a right issue. This is an American issue.”

March For Our Lives is making clear that the gun violence crisis in America doesn’t end with mass shootings at schools, businesses and places of worship — horrific events that devastate entire communities and draw national and international attention.

The group is also highlighting the far more common shootings that leave just a few people dead: instances of intimate partner violence, accidental shootings, youth violence and suicides.

According to the Pew Research Center, suicides have long accounted for the majority of gun deaths in the U.S.

Speaking to reporters on the National Mall last week, March For Our Lives co-founder and Parkland survivor David Hogg said the stories of those victims and survivors too often go unnoticed and unreported.

“When people ask me, ‘David, are you worried about the next Parkland?’ I say no. I’m worried about tonight. Because there are several Parklands happening every single day in this country that do not get on the news. Who don’t get to speak in front of the Capitol. Who don’t ever get their voices or stories told,” he said.

According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, on average, 110 Americans die from gun violence everyday, totaling some 41,000 people every year.

To address the issue, March For Our Lives is calling on Congress to pass a universal background check bill. An April 2021 Quinnipiac University poll shows overwhelming support for the measure, with some 89% of Americans saying all gun buyers should have to pass a background check.

Yet the Senate has still not put the measure to a vote, even after Democrats narrowly won control of both chambers of Congress.

The advocates are demanding that lawmakers take action and are giving them a warning ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. Hogg said incumbents who haven't done enough to affect change should prepare to face a primary challenge.

“The gun violence prevention movement does not represent the Democratic Party. It does not represent the Republican Party," Hogg said. "It represents the future. We represent the future of wanting to make our schools and our communities safer."

It’s been four years since the group of Broward County high school students ignited a political movement that swept across the country and inspired one of the biggest youth protests since the Vietnam War, spurring more than a million people to take to the streets and call for change.

Activists say elected officials have not done nearly enough to make Americans safer from gun violence. However, Lumbantobing still has hope.

“I think that the march four years ago spoke to the depth of that hope. The march of millions of people across the country in hundreds if not thousands of communities spoke to the depth and breadth of where that hope lives,” he said. “It lives in young people.”

“We see a path forward. We can see over the mountain top. We can see a future that is safe, that is giving and nurturing,” Lumbantobing added. “We know that that's possible.”

Kate Payne is WLRN's education reporter