162 Shooting in Four Months: Students Call for Gun Control Action

After eight people were murdered in a mass shooting at an Indianapolis FedEx facility on April 15, 2021, the United States counted its 45th mass shooting since March 16, when a white man shot eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent, in a racially-charged hate crime at three Atlanta-area spas. As more Americans receive the COVID-19 vaccine and people begin to gather in larger numbers, many people fear a return to frequent gun violence tragedies. Tufts students, who have lived through news coverage of hundreds of mass shootings and few successful gun control policies in their lifetimes, are especially concerned that the Biden administration will not pass urgent reform. 

In 2019, the Tufts University Tisch College Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) found that “almost two-thirds (64%) of youth said they had paid ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ of attention to news about the Parkland, [Florida] shooting in 2018.” In response to the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, students of the high school and supporters of the Parkland community around the country rallied together to fight for gun violence prevention. Student activists founded Never Again MSD, which called for protests and demonstrations to lobby for anti-gun violence legislation, and co-organized the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C.

These calls for stricter gun control laws from the youth have been renewed, as America has counted 162 mass shootings this year as of April 28. Tufts student activist Daniel Zackin is frustrated with the lack of serious gun control policy. “I don’t see how after all of these perfect examples of what happens when anyone can get an assault weapon, people cannot agree that we need stricter gun laws,” said Zackin. Still, he is optimistic that youth voices will be loud enough to convince politicians that change is necessary. “People my age, including my fellow schoolmates, are the ones highlighting the problem of gun violence and making it part of a national conversation, which hopefully will have an impact on politics and in the media.” 

After a mass shooting at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado on March 22, during which 10 people were killed, President Biden signed a series of executive orders meant to begin the process of tackling gun violence in America. “There’s no reason someone needs a weapon of war with 100 rounds, 100 bullets, that can be fired from that weapon,” Biden said while discussing the executive orders on April 15. 

On April 16, President Biden also called on Senate Republicans to support a bill that was passed by the House of Representatives, which has already voted in favor of two significant bills. The first measure expands background checks to include purchases of weapons over the internet and at gun shows. Currently, neither type of purchase requires vetting. “Background checks and vetting for gun purchases just make sense. You should have to pass a test to operate a firearm the same way you have to pass a test to drive a car,” Zackin said. Eight House Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the legislation. The second bill grants authorities 10 business days to complete federal background checks before a gun sale must be licensed. Currently, sales can proceed if the government fails to complete a background check of a prospective buyer within three days. Only two Republicans voted in favor of  the legislation.

Tufts Newhouse Civic Studies Professor Brian Schaffner’s research in 2019 examined  how mass shootings influence public sentiment toward gun control and ultimately lead to limited legislative action. “In our study, we tested whether people living near mass shooting events were likely to shift their views,” said Schaffner. “What we found is that Democrats became even more supportive of stricter gun control legislation, while Republicans became even more opposed to it.” This polarization makes policy change very difficult. “I think the reason for this is that each tragic mass shooting brings an intense debate about gun control, and partisans mostly follow the lead of what the politicians from their own party are saying about the issue,” said Schaffner. 

For either of the bills passed by the House to be passed by the Senate in their current form, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will have to convince many Republican senators as well as Democratic Senator Joe Manchin—who has openly opposed the bills—to vote in favor of them, though this is unlikely to happen. 

Despite the lack of success in passing gun safety laws in the face of hundreds of mass shootings, young voters’ choices for state and federal politicians are heavily influenced by gun violence tragedies. CIRCLE data after the Parkland shooting showed that “Among all 18- to 24-year-olds, 43 percent said that the shooting influenced their vote choice for Congress and in local elections at least “somewhat,” with 20 percent saying that it affected their decision “a lot.”’ If Zackin is right, youth leadership in campaigns for gun control laws could make a significant impact on voter turnout and on the decisions of lawmakers. Zackin hopes that in the future, he and his fellow students will no longer be asking the question, “How many mass shootings will it take for the country to agree that we need gun reform?”