Nabeela Syed grew up in a generation intimately familiar with active shooter drills. Third grade was the first time she remembers a police officer rattling the handle of her classroom door, checking to see if she and her classmates would react. Now, at age 23, Syed was just elected as the youngest member of the Illinois House of Representatives. She is one of several young candidates who made gun violence a focus of their campaigns.
“Young people in our district, in our community, in our state should not feel unsafe — to the point that we are conditioning and normalizing these drills that are simply traumatizing,” Syed told The Trace. “I had to do active shooter drills. Future generations should not have to.”
Democrats woke up on Wednesday to a much better electoral performance than polls (and history) had predicted in their first midterm election since President Joe Biden took office. From flipping control of two governorships previously held by Republicans to winning control of several state legislatures, the Democrats’ success in fending off a “red wave” means that gun reform advocates’ will have more receptive lawmakers and elected officials in power across the country.
Much of that success is thanks to young voters, LGBTQ voters, and voters of color turning out.
Polls leading up to Election Day suggested that Democrats would suffer heavy losses in the House and possibly lose the Senate, where the party had only the slimmest of majorities. Though many key races remain to be called, the Democrats are in a tight fight to keep control of the House and the Senate — and possibly even gain a seat in the upper chamber.
But perhaps the most promising sign for advocates of gun reform is the slate of candidates like Syed and Maxwell Frost, who was elected to represent Florida in the U.S. Congress on Tuesday. Many of their victories come on the heels of campaigns that focused heavily on preventing gun violence.
“We’ve grown increasingly frustrated on so many issues — gun violence, climate change, attacks on LGBTQ people,” Joe Vogel, a 25-year-old Democrat elected Tuesday as the youngest member of Maryland’s House of Delegates, told The Trace. “They literally call our generation the school shooting generation because of mass shooting after mass shooting after mass shooting. I think young people are looking at these issues and saying, ‘enough.’”
In Oregon, voters approved a ballot measure requiring permits to purchase firearms and restrictions on high-capacity magazines. In Michigan, Democrats flipped both the state Senate and House, giving Democrats unified control in Michigan for the first time in nearly four decades. And in Minnesota, Democrats flipped the state Senate to secure a unified government for the first time since 2014. Both Minnesota and Michigan could now move to pass gun reforms like a red flag law, which neither currently have.
Meanwhile, Josh Shapiro, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate friendly to gun reform, won his election in Pennsylvania, and Democratic gubernatorial candidates won in Massachusetts and Maryland, succeeding moderate Republicans who previously ran the largely blue states.
There were also gun rights gains: Iowa voters approved a ballot measure that will add gun rights to the state Constitution and require courts to apply strict scrutiny for new gun laws. And in Florida and Texas, which some Democrats had hoped would be competitive, Senator Marco Rubio, Governor Ron Desantis, and Governor Greg Abbott easily won reelection in races that at times focused on the Republicans’ opposition to gun reform. And Republicans, almost uniformly averse to new gun regulations, could still gain control of the U.S. House and Senate.
Nevertheless, this election marked the arrival of a politically active and progressive cohort in the halls of power and a surge in members of Generation Z, those who identify as LGBTQ, and religious minorities elected to state and federal offices. Below are some of the successful candidates who ran on gun violence prevention in states across the country.
Maxwell Frost, Florida’s 10th Congressional District
A 25-year-old Democrat and gun violence prevention activist, Frost will be the first member of Generation Z, whose oldest members were born in 1997, elected to Congress. He will represent Florida’s 10th Congressional District, a district that includes much of Orlando, including the site of the deadly Pulse Nightclub shooting.
Frost was the first national organizing director for March For Our Lives, the advocacy group founded by the survivors of the 2017 Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, before deciding to run for Congress.
Frost made ending gun violence the key issue of his campaign and has said he will push for Congress to ban assault weapons, require background checks on all gun sales, and support community-based violence intervention programs.
Nabeela Syed, Illinois House of Representatives
With Abdelnasser Rashid, who also won on Tuesday, Syed is one of the first Muslims elected to the Illinois Legislature. Syed flipped a Republican-held suburban Chicago district and will be the youngest member of the Illinois General Assembly, which is controlled by Democrats.
She ran on a platform to prevent gun violence, including a ban on assault weapons and safe storage laws.
“It’s clear that we need reform. We need reform at the state level, we need reform at the federal level,” Syed said. “We need to fix existing laws on the books to make sure that dangerous weapons are not in the hands of dangerous people.”
Zaynab Mohamed, Minnesota State Senate
Mohamed is one of three Black women elected to Minnesota’s state Senate on Tuesday — the first Black women elected to the state Legislature’s upper chamber since Minnesota became a state 164 years ago. At 25, Mohamed is also the youngest woman ever elected to the state Senate and the body’s first Gen Z member.
Mohamed will join a new Democratic majority in the state Senate, where Democrats could now push for long-sought gun reforms like a red flag law. In her campaign, Mohamed supported universal background checks, a red flag law, and an assault weapons ban.
Leigh Finke, Minnesota House of Representatives
On Tuesday, Finke, a Democrat, made history as the first transgender person elected to the Minnesota Legislature after her victory in a Minneapolis district. There are currently just eight out trans state legislators in the country, according to the LGBTQ Victory Institute, a group that supports LGBTQ candidates.
During her campaign, Finke argued that gun violence is not inevitable, while advocating for a red flag law “with teeth,” a ban on the sale of semiautomatic rifles and high-capacity magazines, and support for community-based violence prevention organizations.
Ruwa Romman, Georgia House of Representatives
Though Republicans retained control of both chambers of the Georgia General Assembly, Romman, 29, was the first Muslim woman elected to state representative in the state’s history and will be one of the youngest members of the chamber after flipping a suburban Atlanta district that had been held by a Republican.
In her campaign platform, Romman said she would treat gun violence as a public health issue and promised to push for better background checks, studies on preventing gun violence, and legislation to keep guns away from domestic abusers.
Nabilah Islam, Georgia state Senate
Like Romman in the state House, Islam will be the first Muslim woman elected to Georgia’s state Senate, representing a suburban Atlanta district.
Her platform includes repealing Georgia’s recently passed permitless carry law — which allows residents to carry concealed handguns without a license — and enacting stricter background checks.
Joe Vogel, Maryland State House
Another 25-year-old Gen Z first, Vogel will be the youngest member of Maryland’s Legislature. Vogel, who immigrated with his family to the U.S. from Uruguay when he was 3, has described himself as a “member of the school shooting generation.”
His platform includes legislation to ban difficult-to-trace ghost guns, funding for violence prevention programs, legislation that would hold gun makers liable for the use of their weapons in shootings, and requiring liability insurance for gun owners.
“In Maryland, we’ve made some really significant progress, but it’s still not far enough,” Vogel said. “And across the country, I am disappointed by the lack of attention gun violence has gotten from lawmakers. Instead of just growing frustrated, I decided to step up and run for office myself.”