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The Briefing: Like Flight 3407 families, Florida's traumatized teens push for power

WASHINGTON – At rare, dramatic moments in American history, the people who seem powerless seize the power.

We might be witnessing one of those moments now, as an articulate, anguished group of Florida teens grab the microphones and the social media megaphones from gun rights activists.

The odds against meaningful federal gun control legislation remain long, no matter how passionate and persistent the teens of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School prove to be.

Yet American history has proven, on occasion, that people on a mission can overcome the political inertia that entrenched interests thought they had bought and paid for.

Remember that the odds for action for civil rights seemed long when the Rev. Martin Luther King started barnstorming the South in the 1950s.

The odds seemed long, too, when Buffalo-born Beverly Eckert and others who lost loved ones when the World Trade Center collapsed called on Congress to create an independent commission to investigate the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

And the odds also seemed long when, after Eckert and 49 others died in the 2009 crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 in Clarence in 2009, her sisters and others who lost loved ones in that tragedy started pushing Congress for safer skies.

Looking back on the families' winning fight for landmark aviation safety legislation, Eckert's sister, Karen Eckert, sees parallels between the start of the families' effort and what the teens from Parkland, Fla., are doing now.

Six other regional planes had crashed in the years before Flight 3407 tumbled to the ground at the hands of an incompetent pilot – just as there had been a wave of mass shootings before 17 people lost their lives in Florida last week.

Federal safety experts had recommended a host of aviation improvements that had languished for years – just as gun control advocates have.

The political dynamic on aviation safety changed, though, when the Families of Flight 3407 started showing up in Washington. Clad in red, they crowded into the front rows of one congressional hearing after another, taking on an industry with a $20 million lobbying budget. And within 15 months, the families pushed Congress into passing the most comprehensive aviation safety law in decades.

"We were the tipping point after too many in Congress had caved to the lobbyists for too long," Eckert said this week."They couldn’t ignore our faces, our pain, our loved ones lost."

Now a different set of faces – all young, all traumatized, all aggrieved – is taking on the gun lobby and its $10 million lobbying budget.

"We're not going to let the 17 bullets we just took take us down," Cameron Kasky, one of the surviving Parkland students, said on "Meet the Press" this week. "If anything, we're going to keep running, and we're going to lead the rest of the nation behind us."

The Parkland teens are doing way more than going on television. They've already traveled to Florida's capital to lobby – unsuccessfully so far – for tougher state gun control laws. And they're planning national protests.

That sort of commitment to forcing change seems very familiar to Eckert.

"What happened with 3407 is that we had the passion to keep pushing," she said. "That's what I hear in these kids' voices."

Of course, the Parkland kids face obstacles the Flight 3407 families never faced. While the airline industry had a lot of money, it didn't have a strong constituency of frequent flyers lobbying for shoddy pilot training and rest requirements. Yet the Parkland kids must deal with the fact that a significant number of Americans support gun rights and have, in the past, proved more likely to press lawmakers on the issue than gun control advocates have.

And the Flight 3407 families never had to face down an army of conspiracy theorists, yet that's exactly what the Parkland teens already find themselves doing.

Then there's the fact that there are already more guns than people in the United States. That being the case,  it's legitimate to ask how much good tougher background checks and other much-discussed restrictions could really do.

Already, though, there are signs that the Parkland teens are influencing the gun debate. Most notably, President Trump – a longtime gun rights supporter – is contemplating a ban on bump stocks, which allow shooters to shoot semiautomatic weapons at a remarkably fast rate. And that could be just the start of what the president proposes.

Several proposals could conceivably become law, including background checks at gun shows and a higher age limit for the purchase of assault weapons, if Republicans and Democrats can finally come together on those issues.

And if it happens, to paraphrase Isaiah, it shall be the children that lead them.

"They are the standard bearers now to push it over the finish line," Eckert said.

Happening today

President Trump holds a listening session with high school students on the gun issue at the White House ... The Supreme Court hears arguments in two highly technical cases involving criminal law ... Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., hold a news conference call "to demand election and intelligence officials are given the resources and information they need to combat Russian cyberthreats and efforts to interfere in the upcoming 2018 elections."... Congress continues its weeklong recess.

Good reads

The Washington Post details the trauma the Parkland teens are facing ... Vox notes that media attention to the Parkland shooting is not fading, as it has with other mass shootings ... Politico spells out the coming congressional battle over the "Dreamers" ... The New York Times reports on Jared Kushner's continuing security clearance issues ... And the Wall Street Journal tells us the masses are mining Bitcoins now.

 

 

 

 

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