The Day the Gun Debate Changed

Ladd Everitt
7 min readFeb 22, 2018


When a nationally-televised audience from Florida lustfully applauded a ban on ALL semiautomatic rifles, the dynamics on the gun issue changed immediately.

The most remarkable moment I have witnessed during my 18 years as a gun violence prevention advocate (volunteer and professional) occurred last night during CNN’s “Stand Up: The Students of [Marjory] Stoneman Douglas [High School] Demand Action” town hall meeting at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida. Fred Guttenberg — the father of 14 year-old Jaime Guttenberg, who was shot and killed at the high school on February 14 — stood up and confronted dissembling Florida Senator Marco Rubio on the issue of assault weapons.

Guttenberg informed Senator Rubio that his daughter was shot in the back while running away from the deranged student gunman who perpetrated the attack. “Were guns the factor in the hunting of our kids and is [the AR-15] the weapon of choice? Can you say that?” Guttenberg demanded of Rubio.

Senator Marco Rubio was so rattled by the pro-gun control stance of Parkland survivors at the CNN Town Hall that he spontaneously announced support for a host of policies for the first time, to include ammunition magazine size limits, gun violence restraining orders, and age limits on assault weapon purchases.

Rubio began to lie again, claiming the only reason the AR-15 was included in the 1994–2004 federal assault weapons ban was because of a “plastic handle grip” and insisting there was nothing to be done about the issue. “Your answer speaks for itself,” Guttenberg told Rubio with obvious disgust, and sat down.

Rubio was clearly shaken by the exchange, and he circled back to assault weapons a few minutes later. “The problem [is] that once you start looking at how easy it is to get around [a federal assault weapons ban], you would literally have to ban every single semiautomatic rifle that’s sold in America,” he began…

And before the NRA’s A+-rated senator could finish his thought, the crowd— which consisted of both students and adults from the Parkland community — interrupted him with furious applause at the prospect of such a ban.


At the conclusion of the town hall meeting, the crowd also (literally) booed NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch off the stage after she, too, lied to them and refused to support a single reform proposal that would prevent future school shootings. Loesch was serenaded with chants of “SHAME ON YOU!” as she walked out of the auditorium.

These were not isolated moments. Across the Sunshine State yesterday — the stronghold of the most powerful NRA lobbyist in America, Marion Hammer — students and adults rose up and spoke bold truth to the gun issue.

It began at a rally at noon directly outside the Florida state capitol in Tallahassee organized by the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, the League of Women Voters of Florida, and state Senator Gary Farmer (D-34th). Organizers helped to bus in students from Broward County schools, but word of the event spread organically and that morning thousands of students started arriving from high schools across the area: Stoneman Douglas, Leon County schools, etc.

NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch lied to Parkland survivors at the CNN Town Hall, claiming the NRA supported forcing states to submit records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System when in fact the NRA filed a successful lawsuit in the 90s to give states the option of not doing so (Printz vs. U.S.).

The students’ words at the rally were powerful and unflinching, whether it was Ashley Santoro’s chant of “NO MORE AR-15s!”; Rachel Catania’s declaration that “The NRA is murdering me!”; or Sheryl Acquaroli’s shrill, haunting “Dear Congress” pleas to get legislators to do something, anything to save their lives. The adults at the rally were no less courageous, as evidenced by these words from Florida Rabbi Jack Romberg:

Here is a sad truth about our society. It is infected. It is infected in a way that allowed the death of these and numerous other victims. And so I say that we now need to remind all members of our state government and our national government that this culture is actually repelling the presence of God. If you believe that the only solution to gun violence in schools is to turn them into an armed fortress then you do not understand the sickness infecting our culture and you are then repelling God’s presence. If your interpretation of the Second Amendment results in placing gun ownership ahead of the lives of our children — indeed, of all Americans — you are repelling God’s presence. If you refuse to even allow an open discussion to consider the benefits of an assault weapons ban, you are repelling God’s presence. And if you are condemning the students who are pushing for change either as actors of puppets of the left wing, thereby refusing to acknowledge their pain and sincerity, you are repelling God’s presence.

Shortly after the rally began, inside the state capitol building on the 4th floor, student leaders with March for Our Lives were facing the first effort by corrupt legislators to co-opt their agenda. They had been invited by two state senators, Lauren Book and Bill Galvano, to attend a press conference to speak about the response to the Parkland shooting. The presser had conspicuously been scheduled to take place during the rally outside, conflicting with it. Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence leaders also received word on Tuesday night that Governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi would be attending the press conference. The students were clearly being set up to make it appear as if they were in support of a dubious package of “reform” proposals offered by Galvano and Book. This package offers minuscule changes to Florida’s gun laws in return for the implementation of a “Sentinel Program” that would arm school staff across the state.

Word about the fix got out yesterday morning, however, and when the presser occurred, Scott and Bondi were nowhere to be found (nor was Galvano). More importantly, the March for Our Lives students were having no part of the tainted Book/Galvano proposal, refusing to even mention it. Instead, they focused on their goal of banning assault weapons and delivered more straight talk to the gun lobby and its supporters.

Yesterday’s rally for tough gun laws directly outside the Florida state capitol in Tallahassee was massive and attended by students from across the state.

Ryan Deitsch, a senior at Stoneman Douglas, declared, “I want to see those people who have spoken out against [a proposed assault weapons ban in Florida]. I want to see those people who shot down that bill [by a vote of 36–71 on Tuesday], who did not let it get past committee. I want to see those people.” Delaney Tarr, another senior at Stoneman Douglas, said, “To shoot down a bill like that is absolutely abhorrent.” Then she promised legislators who back the NRA and oppose reform, “We are coming after every single one of you.” Finally, Tanzil Philip, a sophomore at the school, shared this message directly with NRA’s Florida lobbyist: “To Marion Hammer and to everyone at the NRA and everyone affiliated at the NRA: We are not afraid of you, we will not be silenced by anything you have to say,” he declared. “We are here, our voices are loud, and we’re not stopping until change happens.”

I am elated the NRA is under attack in a state where they have long considered themselves invincible. This would have been unthinkable literally hours ago. I also take tremendous hope from the fact that the Parkland survivors defeated yesterday’s attempts to water down their advocacy and tie them to the present, meek status quo on gun control.

But the temptation of the students is not over. Millions of dollars are being thrown at March For Our Lives by celebrities, organizations and others who would love to claim the #NeverAgain “brand” for their own agenda. This is forcing teenagers to make complicated ethical decisions that challenge adults three times their age.

Notably, the most conservative group in the gun control movement, Everytown for Gun Safety, is organizing the next March for Our Lives event (on March 24, 2018 in the nation’s capital) for the students. To this day — after Sandy Hook, Las Vegas and so many other shootings involving battlefield weapons — Everytown still does not support an assault weapon ban at the federal or state level (nor does the second largest group in the gun control movement, Giffords). It’s hard to imagine billionaire Mike Bloomberg’s group co-sponsoring an event that involves strident calls for assault weapons bans and other reforms with actual teeth (as opposed to “compromise” legislation loaded with dangerous gifts for the NRA like the Machin-Toomey bill). Everytown will undoubtedly urge the students to moderate their message and follow the “be polite and beg for table scraps” strategy that has doomed the gun control movement to failure for more than two decades.

It’s a well-kept secret, but the largest group in gun control, Mike Bloomberg’s Everytown for Guns Safety, has never supported banning assault weapons. The same goes for the second largest GVP group, Giffords, run by Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly.

If we are truly going to change our gun laws and save countless lives in this country, we need the remarkable young Americans in March For Our Lives to reject that advice, maintain their wonderful intensity, and understand that they’ve already done more to change the national debate on this issue than the gun control “professionals” ever have.

“These people putting their money in — not a single one of them has said anything along the lines of ‘I’ll donate but you have to listen to what I say,’” March for Our Lives leader Cameron Kasky assured the Miami Herald yesterday. “Nobody is pulling the strings for [us].”

Those words should be music to the ears of every American tired of the constant shootings decimating our families and communities. Because if the kids are alright, there are better, safer days ahead.



Ladd Everitt

Ladd Everitt is a comms pro & gun control expert who’s worked for Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, George Takei's One Pulse for America, and Million Mom March.