Some Marjory Stoneman Douglas students have been outspoken gun control advocates since the February shooting at their high school, and now their parents are ramping up the pressure with a political action committee to campaign against candidates who won’t crack down on military-style weapons.
The Families vs. Assault Rifles PAC won’t necessarily focus on backing candidates, but it will oppose those who don’t support the group’s goals, said Jeff Kasky, president of the group and father of Cameron Kasky, one of the Parkland student activists.
“If they share our position, then that’s great — have a nice day; best of luck to you,” Mr. Kasky said. “But if somebody’s against our position on assault rifles, then we’re going to take whatever action’s necessary to help them find their way home.”
He said the group is still assessing the primary landscape across the country before jumping into specific races — Florida voters head to the polls on Aug. 28 — but they plan to get involved in the state’s U.S. Senate and gubernatorial contests.
The PAC isn’t calling for an immediate ban on rifles with assault-style designs or accouterments, but Mr. Kasky said he wants sales to be “severely restricted.”
Current owners would be grandfathered in but would have to register the weapons — as is the case in states such as California and Connecticut — and pay some type of fee.
“Now they’re accountable and we know who has them and we know where they are,” he said. “Then if you want to get one, it’s a very difficult process that you have to go through.”
Homing in on a particular type of weapon could help distinguish the group from a crowded gun control playing field, said Robert J. Spitzer, a professor at the State University of New York at Cortland. It also makes sense for those associated with Parkland because authorities say an AR-15-style rifle was used in the attack, which killed 17 people.
At the same time, Mr. Spitzer questioned how much ground they can make on a subset of what is already a single issue.
“For them to plant their flag on the sole issue of banning assault rifles gives them pretty limited options because it represents sort of [the] leading edge of the possible controls that anyone might contemplate enacting,” said Mr. Spitzer, who has written extensively on the politics of gun control.
Mr. Kasky said he has been in touch with leaders of other organizations who have been helpful but that his group will occupy its own space.
The Parkland group, formally organized in May, raised about $200,000 in a little over a month as of June 30, the close of the latest reporting period.
Mr. Kasky said members span the political spectrum and even include some from the National Rifle Association, an organization that the Parkland gun control activists have attacked.
But he acknowledged the difficulty in trying to portray any gun-related cause as nonpartisan in the current environment.
“It’s become a partisan issue because whenever there’s money involved, there’s politics involved and one side or another’s going to jump on,” he said.
The organization is set up as a super PAC, meaning it can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money but cannot coordinate with specific candidates or their campaigns.
He said he is asking people to contribute $17 — a dollar for every person killed at Stoneman Douglas — or more if they can.
Mr. Kasky made clear that the students are leading the broader pressure campaign. They have spent time this year targeting the NRA and trying to register young voters across the country.
“It is the students who are driving this bus,” he said. “We and the other organizations that are doing this work, in my personal view, are simply complementary to the students’ efforts.”
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