America is full of lobbyists. These seasoned political operatives work at the murky intersection of money and politics.
But today a unique group of lobbyists will take centre stage. We’ve never seen their like before. The average age is 17; they’ve never even met a politician before; and they have the attention of the nation.
These teenage activists are the survivors of the Parkland shooting last week. Having endured the trauma of the mass shooting - carried out by a 19 year old gunman armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon - they are passionate about gun control. They call it their generation’s mission. And they are marching on Tallahassee, Florida’s State capital, to demand action from legislators.
Sadly, these high-school students have already received the most abrupt and cynical lesson of their lives.
Last night, with some survivors watching from the gallery, Florida’s lawmakers rejected any talk of banning assault weapons. A vote was held (and easily passed) that ruled out even a debate on the subject.
That’s how powerful the gun lobby is. In the face of opinion polls that show a clear majority of Americans favour banning assault weapons, and in the aftermath of carnage in a school, nothing will be done.
It’s true that the President suggested yesterday he wanted action to ban “bump stocks” - the accessories that turn semi-automatics into rapid fire weapons. But that is on the very fringe of actions that would make a difference.
More significantly, he also appears now to back tougher background checks, a view he expressed on Twitter last night:
But the teenage survivors of the high-school massacre are demanding something much bolder: A ban on the sale of all high powered weapons and a Congress that repudiates funding from the NRA.
The young lobbyists deserve to succeed. They are courageous and impressive advocates. But don’t hold your breath. The forces arrayed against them are deeply entrenched.