Joe Henderson: March leaders’ next challenge is keeping momentum

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Maybe the March For Our Lives pulled some people off the sideline and converted them to the cause of ending gun violence here and around the world.

I hope so.

But you know what?

I know how the other side thinks, and they are betting against that. They figure that within a few more days, maybe a couple of weeks, the story of Saturday’s world-wide protests will vanish from the nightly news, front pages and the public’s collective interest.

They figure everyone will be distracted by Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels, or some other event that becomes THE story of the news cycle.

Sure, the students who organized and led marches – especially those from Parkland – were compelling and the crowds were large. But the other side is wagering that the majority of participants will soon lose the fire in their bellies that pushed them to get involved following the slaughter of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.

They’ll be distracted enough with final exams, summer jobs, or heading to college in the fall. Oh sure, some of them will follow through on their vow to stay active during the buildup to the mid-term elections and that might flip a few seats to the Democrats.

Not enough to change the balance of power though.

That’s why we haven’t heard much from Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell.

Just lay low, let it burn out.

That’s why the president, who tweets about everything, acted like the march had typhoid and avoided it – although, to be fair, he did say Friday his administration will work to ban bump stocks.

He did, by the way, find time to declare Sunday national Greek Independence Day – so there is that.

Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio tried, as usual, to have it both ways. In a tweet he noted, “Many support gun ban. But many others see it as infringement of #2A that won’t prevent shootings. Protest is good way of making a point, but making a change will require both sides finding common ground.”

Stop right there, Senator.

Multiple polls have shown that about 70 percent of Americans want strong regulation of firearms. That’s a bit more definitive than “some want this, but some want that.”

Rubio also has been singled out by protesters for taking large donations from the National Rifle Association, a group for whom “common ground” means “see it our way.”

The NRA recently filed a federal law suit against a Florida bill that imposed modest restrictions on the sale of weapons like the AR-15. The state raised the minimum age to buy such a gun to 21 from 18, mandated a three-day waiting period, and an end to bump stocks.

Important note: The law doesn’t say an 18-year-old can’t receive and own an AR-15 as a gift or through other means. They just have to wait to before they can go to a gun store and buy one.

The NRA called that an attack on the 2nd Amendment.

How is anyone to supposed to find Rubio’s goal of common ground against stubbornness like that?

And, trust me kids, the NRA knows a thing or three about how to play the political game. It has gotten really good at that, which brings us back to the original point.

Protesters are correct that the only way to change the law is to change the people who make the laws. Doing that is hard, tedious work – the kind work the NRA and its supporters have done for years to gain the political advantage they have now.

Those same polls that show Americans want change also don’t believe they’ll get that. In a Marist survey, 63 percent said they approved of the march. But 62 percent also said they don’t believe the protests will bring about significant change.

That’s what the kids are up against.

The NRA and gun supporters have beaten the opposition down by offering no common ground, as Rubio would say it. You are either with the NRA all the way, or not.

But as we looked around the nation Saturday, we saw millions of faces saying that things have to change. Some of them have lived through a horror a lot worse than having to wait a little while to buy an AR-15.

The momentum generated by the march could change this country and the world.

The opposition is betting it won’t.

It’s up to protesters to prove them wrong.


Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


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