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Protesters with March for Our Lives, Moms Demand Action, and Everytown at a Parkland rally in 2018.
Protesters with March for Our Lives, Moms Demand Action, and Everytown at a Parkland rally in 2018.
Photo by Ian Witlen

Two Years After the Parkland Shooting, What's Really Changed?

Heather Chapman, a Parkland mom, says living in her community can feel like being in a bubble.

Everyone in Parkland, Coral Springs, and the surrounding area carries with them the heartache of the February 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Some days, they feel trapped in time and pain, like insects in amber. Other days, they simply get by. And sometimes they feel like their neighbors are the only people who can understand and empathize with them.

"Other people have moved on outside of our little bubble, and they've forgotten," says Chapman, whose oldest daughter graduated from Stoneman Douglas last year and whose youngest is a freshman at the school. "We deal with it every day."

A few days after the shooting, Chapman, her daughters, and one of her aunts went to a meeting of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Listening to the stories of the hundreds of people who attended the meeting and seeing her own daughters' grief lit a fire under her.

"As a mother, it is the worst feeling in the world to watch your kids struggle," Chapman says. "And I didn't know how to fight it. I think that's the hardest part as a parent. When they're little and they get a boo-boo, you put a Band-Aid on it, kiss it, and make it better. I can't do that for this."

Like many crusading Parkland parents and activists, Chapman found purpose in prevention. She became the group leader of the Parkland chapter of Moms Demand to advocate for gun safety in her community, in Tallahassee, and in Washington, D.C.

Chapman's family owns guns. She says the shooting made her take a step back and think about the various issues surrounding firearm safety.

"We believe in the Second Amendment," she says. "I also know there are people out there who have no business owning a gun. Our shooter was mentally unstable and angry. He was young, and he had a gun. Police were called to his house dozens of times. He's the epitome of everything we're trying to prevent."

In the two years since the shooting, Florida has seen some changes in the way of gun legislation. Whether you think it's too much or not nearly enough, any solution that isn't covering our eyes, plugging our ears, and changing the channel on America's gun problem is progress — especially in a state that has become the gun lobby's petri dish.

Here's a look at what has changed in the two years since Alyssa Alhadeff, Scott Beigel, Martin Duque, Nicholas Dworet, Aaron Feis, Jaime Guttenberg, Christopher Hixon, Luke Hoyer, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Joaquin Oliver, Alaina Petty, Meadow Pollack, Helena Ramsay, Alex Schachter, Carmen Schentrup, and Peter Wang were killed.

People considered a danger to themselves or others can have their guns taken away. In March 2018, the Florida Legislature passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which tightens access to guns and enhances school security.

Among the provisions is a system that allows law enforcement officers to seize the firearms and ammunition of a person entering custody who poses a threat to themselves or others. The provision also allows police to petition a court for a risk protection order that could require people to give up their weapons until they're no longer a danger.

Gun control advocates and policy experts say the extreme risk protection order law, sometimes referred to as the "red flag" law, was a tremendous victory.

"A law being used by Florida law enforcement every day — that's a remarkable thing," says Christian Heyne, vice president of policy at Brady, a gun control advocacy organization.

Meanwhile, some lawyers and gun rights groups question whether the law is constitutional; they argue it deprives people of due process and creates a dragnet that captures law-abiding gun owners and children.

A recent review of firearm seizures under Florida's red flag law shows that 255 unique petitions were filed in Broward alone during the law's first year, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

The NRA has lost some of its muscle. The NRA greased the wheels for the passing of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law in 2005. And in 2011, superlobbyist Marion Hammer helped write a bill that criminalized the passage of gun regulations by local governments. It's not difficult to figure out why the NRA has had so much influence in the "Gunshine State," particularly when the association hands out report cards for Florida politicos.

The NRA continues to be an all-powerful bogeyman, to be sure. The Trace reported that legislators in nine states passed NRA-backed laws or expanded open-carry legislation in 2019. But a series of financial and political woes and a seemingly endless spate of mass shootings have contributed to the group's waning influence in Washington and elsewhere. Revenue plummeted by $54 million in 2017, according to Politico, and membership dues fell by $35 million.

NRA board members have resigned, the group's infighting led to something of an attempted coup, and the president has said the organization needs to get its act together and "get back to GREATNESS - FAST!"

Gun control measures have gone national. According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 2019 was a record year for gun safety legislation. The group's end-of-year review says 23 states and the District of Columbia signed 70 gun safety bills into law during their respective 2019 legislative sessions. Various states enacted background check laws, bump stock bans, and measures on ghost guns, gun access for domestic abusers and minors, and firearms dealer regulations.

And since the MSD shooting, 132 gun safety bills have been signed into law in 32 states and Washington, D.C., the report says.

Florida mayors call for universal background checks on gun purchases. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and 15 other Florida mayors signed a letter to state Sen. Tom Lee, who represents Hillsborough County and chairs the Florida Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee, urging the Legislature to pass universal background checks on all gun sales.

Lee is leading the charge on passing a gun control bill that closes the gun-show loophole, which refers to the private sale of firearms that don't meet federal background check requirements. The bill passed in the committee Lee chairs and must next pass through the House and clear the governor's desk. (Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he would have vetoed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act.)

Florida cities and counties began fighting preemption laws. Florida law has prohibited local governments from adopting their own gun laws or placing any restrictions on firearms since 1987. The state Legislature gave the law some teeth in 2011 by threatening lawmakers with removal from office if they violated it.

The preemption has opened the door for pro-gun advocacy organizations to sue Florida cities and counties over their gun control ordinances. But some municipalities are fighting back. Local governments filed three lawsuits, which were later consolidated in Leon County circuit court, challenging the preemption law after the Parkland shooting. A judge then found parts of the preemption law unconstitutional. DeSantis' administration appealed the ruling, but attorneys for dozens of cities are urging a Florida appeals court to uphold the circuit court's decision.

The NRA, which, naturally, lobbied for the preemption law, has filed a brief that argues the law should be upheld.

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