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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Florida shooting survivor: New breed of activists to force change on guns

David Hogg, 17, says it would be a mistake to write off the new push tougher gun control as the misguided effort of idealistic teenagers

David Hogg, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, speaks at a rally calling for more gun control three days after the shooting at his school, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on February 17, 2018. Jonathan Drake / Reuters
David Hogg, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, speaks at a rally calling for more gun control three days after the shooting at his school, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on February 17, 2018. Jonathan Drake / Reuters

Last week, David Hogg huddled with his classmates as a gunman brought terror to his high school. By the time it was all over, 17 people lay dead or dying.

This week, the 17-year-old is doing the rounds of television studios as one of a new breed of activists demanding tougher gun control and speaking out against the power of the National Rifle Association.

“We are not going to let anyone stop us and nothing can because we are still living,” he told The National during a break in TV appearances and shortly after taking a phone call from the White House.

It did not take long for survivors of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — the second-deadliest shooting at a public school in American history — to channel their grief and anger into action.

In the immediate aftermath, they spoke at vigils about the need for gun control and a #neveragain hashtag took off on Twitter.

On Wednesday, they are due to rally in the Florida state capital Tallahassee, where a day earlier state politicians quashed a bill to ban assault rifles, and a march is planned in Washington DC next month as their campaign draws attention and support.

Hogg said he understood that previous massacres had generated public outrage but produced little or no reform. However, he said it would be a mistake to write off the new push as the misguided effort of idealistic teenagers.

“We’re realistic teenagers that realise the only way to save as many children’s lives as possible at this point is to compromise,” he said by telephone from Los Angeles.

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Rather than simple bans or confiscations, he speaks the language of pragmatism, demanding universal background checks, better mental health care and an increase in the minimum age of gun ownership to 21 from 18.

“I fully support people’s right to have a gun. I do. I just don’t want crazy people owning guns,” he said.

Analysts say they face an uphill struggle against entrenched gun interests but suggest their campaign is uniquely placed to make an impact. They are social media natives, skilled in the art of getting their message out, and are from the first generation born since the 1999 Columbine high school massacre, when 12 students and a teacher were killed.

Rather than seeing such shootings as an aberration, they have grown up with the threat as an ever-present fear. Active shooter drills are part of their schooling.

Hogg’s activism began as the shooting unfolded. A student journalist, he pulled out his cell phone to record what was happening — a real time gun control policy message.

Now he says he is ready to work with Donald Trump if need be to make America safer.

“How can you be partisan. We have to realise we both want the same thing: the saving of our future."

That means backing Republicans who want more done on mental health, and Democrats when they pursue tougher background checks.

He is sceptical that a ban on assault weapons is a workable answer. “The country is not ready for it,” he said.

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Not everyone is convinced their campaign will prove more successful than earlier ones, particularly when American politics is more polarised than ever.

“What is required is a political appetite to address the issue, a massive buy-back scheme, a counter-balance to NRA lobbying, and federal funding for research into reducing gun harm,” said Iain Overton, director of Action on Armed Violence and the author of Gun Baby Gun.

“It's hard to see any of these emerging under the current president.”

Others see longer term progress.

Stuart Rothenberg, a political analyst in Washington, said the students were articulate, compelling, and had been clever in sticking to a bipartisan approach.

“What I do think we are seeing is a generational change that can work its way through society and into government that will change things. So I don’t want to discount what is happening,” he said.

“But in the shorter term, I don’t expect a fundamental realignment over guns.”

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