Students' #NeverAgain Movement Shifting Political Climate in National Fight Against Gun Violence

INTERVIEW WITH ERIC MILGRAM,
NEWTOWN ACTION ALLIANCE SPOKESMAN,
CONDUCTED BY SCOTT HARRIS

PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 28, 2018

After the latest mass shooting incident that killed 17 students and teachers at Parkland Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, expectations were that interest in yet another tragic story of gun violence would soon fade from the headlines. But something is different this time. Student survivors of the Parkland massacre refused to let their grief and trauma stop them from speaking out and becoming active in the campaign to rein in gun violence.

Just days after the massacre, students and their supporters boldly confronted state and federal Republican politicians, challenging them to sever ties with NRA, return the pro-gun group's campaign contributions and support new laws to better regulate who can buy a gun, and restrict the sale of semi-automatic military-style assault rifles.

In a White House meeting with the president, Parkland student survivors implored Trump to back stricter gun regulations. However, after offering some supportive rhetoric for banning bump stocks, and bolster background checks, days later there were indications that the president was backtracking on his initial modest support for increasing the minimum age to purchase some guns.  Alternatively, the president supported the controversial NRA initiative to arm teachers in their classrooms. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Eric Milgram, a spokesperson with the Newtown Action Alliance, and father of two young daughters who survived the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Here, he comments on the inadequate responses from the president and Republican-controlled Congress — and the potential for a new generation of gun safety activists to upend the status quo of inaction by Congress to strengthen the nation's gun laws.

ERIC MILGRAM: Every one of these is so painful for this town and probably for every other town that's been through this, because it reopens those old wounds every time. I can't say I'm surprised. I felt immediate sadness. It brings back a lot of the feelings. And I started thinking about the kids down there. What the families are going through. What the people who weren't killed, but who were injured, you know, what they're going through.

And so, we didn't have, really, any survivors. You know here in Sandy Hook, the victims were just too small. And it's just hard to fathom that we as a country could put men on the moon, but we can't solve this problem. And let's face it, there's a solution here. I'm tired of hearing the gun-nut rhetoric and the gun lobby talking points which are tired, which are illogical. There's a counter for every one of them. They're stupid on their face anyway, but the data doesn't hold up either, so I've learned a lot about ...

My first job out of graduate school was at the Center for Disease Control. I worked in the toxicology group there. Even then, I learned that there was so much that we could've been doing, but the research was stopped. We couldn't pursue it because the NRA had held Congress, so that's when I vowed, OK, I'm going to do everything within my power to make the knowledge available to people we do have, to get to know the researchers in the field, but also to influence legislation so that we can collect the data that we need, that we can do the proper research, the analysis and influence public policy from a place of evidence.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What's your response to President Trump and the NRA's proposal to arm teachers all across this country who are "adept with a gun?"

ERIC MILGRAM: There is no answer to any problem that doesn't involve more guns to the NRA. That's their answer to every problem. I think that is the stupidest. Ask the teachers what they think, you know, because that is a really, really bad idea. Most days, most schools don't have mass shootings. You start putting all of these extra weapons in the schools, you're going to have discharges due to people dropping it; a teacher lose their cool one day, hey it does happen. You're going to raise the risk. You're not going to impact mass shootings at all. Killers who decide to engage in a mass shooting – they don't care about if a target is armed or not.

In fact, you hear this nonsense. You hear the president repeating it and the NRA started this, that mass shooters choose gun-free zones because they're soft targets. That's utter nonsense. They choose a place that is significant to them. Fort Hood, which had two major mass shootings within two or three years of each other, was not a gun-free zone.

In Europe, mass shooters there? You know where they usually go, by far, the number one target for them? Military installations. Why is that? Why – if you're a mass shooter in Europe – would you go to the one place where you're likely to encounter guns? It's utter nonsense, it's irresponsible, and you know what? The NRA's doing their job, though. It would increase gun sales and for all these so-called "patriots" who said they need to be armed because of a tyrannical government, but at the same time they're supporting the creation of 100,000 or so new government employees that are armed? It's utterly stupid.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Dr. Milgram, what do you make of the students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who've been so articulate, so poised, so well-versed in the facts about this debate? Are you optimistic that these students can break through and make some changes where so many others have failed over the last several decades?

ERIC MILGRAM: I'm very optimistic. The kids are all right. From what I see, the NRA and the gun trolls who love to align themselves with the NRA, they picked wrong fight. These kids are social media savvy. They are emboldened. They are not backing down.

We tried, I personally tried for years to get Enterprise, Avis – I used to travel extensively, do a lot of miles every year on airlines and rental cars and hotels. And when I learned that the rental car companies gave NRA members a discount, I was furious about it because of what happened here in Sandy Hook and what my kids had to go through. So I personally wrote letters. Nothing. They ignored me. I tweeted at them, they ignored me.

These kids, in less than a week, they've been able to get a large number of companies, including the major airlines, the major rental car companies to sever their relationships with the NRA. I will only support businesses whose values are aligned with mine. And I would say to the kids in Florida, you keep it up. You've already had more impact in one week than all of the gun violence prevention groups and gun control groups have done over the last 30 years.