High School Students Challenge the Gun Control Paradox

By Leon Anderson, author of Deviance: Social Constructions and Blurred Boundaries

On March 25, the Brady Campaign website posted a banner proclaiming, “The March Was Just the Start.” The previous day, March for Our Lives rallies swept across the U.S. and rippled around the world. Mobilized by high school students who survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, hundreds of thousands of people marched to voice outrage against political unwillingness to create meaningful gun control policies in the United States. Is the current wave of marches and demonstrations one—admittedly big—flash in the pan destined to fade over time? Or, as the Brady Campaign envisions, is it “just the start” for real change? #MarchForOurLives

There is certainly ample reason for skepticism that the Parkland high school shootings will spark significant gun legislation. Our nation has amassed a list of horrific school shootings, including the Sandy Hook massacre of twenty six and seven year old children, without enacting meaningful gun control policies. Why would the Parkland slayings be any different? The answer lies in what sociologists refer to as the “gun control paradox.” The paradox is this: while the majority of U.S. adults have expressed interest in effective gun control for years, actual legislation is almost never enacted. Expert scholars in the field, such as Howard Schuman and Stanley Presser, find the answer to this paradox not just in the financial clout of the NRA, but also in the engaged commitment of gun rights activists to their interests in comparison to those who believe in more effective gun control.

The response of students to the shooting tragedy at Stoneman Douglas High School has mobilized massive expression of concern for gun control legislation. Will this mark a turning point leading to sustained engagement by those who believe that safety in schools and the broader society requires gun control? If the March was “just the start,” the gun control paradox might well give way over time to effective policies that are supported by the majority of Americans.

Leon Anderson is Professor of Sociology at Utah State University. He is coauthor of Down on Their Luck and Analyzing Social Settings, 4th Edition. Before arriving at Utah State University, he was on the faculty at Ohio University. He has served as chair of the Department of Sociology, Social Work, and Anthropology at Utah State and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Ohio University. He is best known for his collaborative research on homelessness and for his expertise in qualitative research methods.

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