On February 14, 2018, Jacob Martinez watched high school student Marjory Stoneman Douglas live-tweet a shooting at her high school in Parkland, Florida. This experience prompted him to get involved in the gun violence prevention movement. As president of the Arizona Teenage Republicans, Martinez tried to talk to local Republican lawmakers, some of whom he had known for years, about gun reform, but something had changed. “They didn’t want to talk to me,” he recalls. “They didn’t want to listen.”
Moments like these have made Martinez, who has since resigned from his post and is now one of the main organizers of March For Our Lives in Phoenix, pessimistic about the possibility of Congress passing reform legislation. firearms. “I didn’t think it would be possible, especially at the federal level,” says the 21-year-old teen vogue.
But the impossible actually happened. Following the May mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, Congress passed the bipartisan Safer Communities Act, with 15 Senate Republicans joining fellow Democrats in supporting the legislation. President Joe Biden signed it into law on Saturday. The deal is more limited than the restrictions championed by young gun violence activists, but it represents the first major gun reform legislation advanced by Congress in nearly three decades. For young people who have spent years organizing actions, giving interviews and leading thousands of Americans to marches, it feels like their activism is finally paying off.
Clifton Kinnie, 25, is a civil rights activist based in Ferguson, Missouri. He joined the movement aged 17, after a police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, sparking a nationwide wave of protests calling for justice. Kinnie said the connection between police brutality and gun violence made him see his place in the movement. “I was hit by tear gas, rubber bullets,” he recalls of past protests. “In my experience, I just know when you have the chance to do something and it’s not bad…it should pass.”
The law does not contain all the provisions demanded by activists, which is why many of them see it as a starting point. Rachel Gonzaleza 23-year-old who helped organize the 2018 Kansas City March for Life protest and is now head of national organizing at Brady (formerly the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence), said she felt compelled to support the proposal.
“This legislation won’t save all lives, but it will save a few,” Gonzalez said. One of the most significant changes, according to Gonzalez, is the closing of what is known as the “boyfriend loophole.” Possession of firearms is prohibited for those convicted of domestic violence who are married, divorced or share children with their victim. As it stands, abusive dating partners are legally allowed to own firearms.