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The right to attend school without fear of being shot

Another school shooting by a disturbed teenager with an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle has placed the familiar menu of solutions on the national table: closing loopholes in the federal background check system; increasing the minimum age for gun ownership; banning assault rifles, bump stocks and large capacity magazines. If the solutions call up years of stalemate created by the NRA, the ability of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students in Parkland, Fla., to turn their anger and grief into fearless activism has given the nation hope that something might actually be done.  

We have grown inured to the glistening faces of mourners at candlelight vigils, along with politicians’ sanctimonious pronouncements that discussions of gun safety are indecorous in the face of people’s grief. By contrast, the eloquent fury of the Parkland students about the gunning down of their teachers and peers has been thrilling to watch.  Horrified, broken-hearted and traumatized, these students have nevertheless been able to articulate the issues they studied in their AP Government class on gun safety. 

Here is Emma Gonzalez, a senior, addressing a gun control rally in Fort Lauderdale two days after the mass shooting:  

“We certainly do not understand why it should be harder to make plans with friends on weekends than to buy an automatic or semi-automatic weapon. In Florida, to buy a gun you do not need a permit, you do not need a gun license, and once you buy it you do not need to register it. You do not need a permit to carry a concealed rifle or shotgun. You can buy as many guns as you want at one time.”

Emma then argued that, should President Trump offer his condolences without offering any real solution, she was prepared to “... happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association.”  

By the weekend, a website had been created, March for Our Lives, (www.marchforourlives.com), whose mission statement begins with the heartbreaking lines, “Not one more. We cannot allow one more child to be shot at school. We cannot allow one more teacher to make a choice to jump in front of a firing assault rifle to save the lives of students.  We cannot allow one more family to wait for a call or text that never comes.”  

The student-led group then planned a national student march in Washington D.C. on March 24, perhaps the protest with the highest attendance ever held in D.C.  “Every kid in this country now goes to school wondering if this day might be their last. We live in fear,” says the March for Our Lives website. “It doesn’t have to be this way. Change is coming. And it starts now, inspired by and led by the kids who are our hope for the future. Their young voices will be heard.”

Exactly a week after the shooting, President Trump held a televised listening session with Parkland students and other victims of gun violence in and on their way to and from school. The AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, which can fire 140 rounds in less than five minutes, has been the weapon used in the mass school shootings in Columbine, Sandy Hook and Marjory Stoneman Douglas.  Yet, in summarizing the solutions he’d heard from the assembled group, President Trump made no mention of military-style assault rifles. Indeed, of all the proposals offered by his guests, he settled on the idea of giving teachers bonuses for carrying concealed weapons, an idea supported by the NRA that most educators fear would create the terrible possibility of a teacher killing an innocent student. 

And nothing has been done since.

Although the ultra-right posted the fake news that Parkland students were “crisis actors” using the shooting to push a liberal agenda, the liberal media has remained uplifted by the ongoing energy of the student mobilization. While some commentators predict that the students’ fearless condemnation of politicians who take money from the NRA will affect the 2018 primaries, most political analysts take a longer view. Comparing these students to the generation that finally changed public opinion about gay marriage, the commentators speak of students who have never gone to school without the fear of being gunned down becoming adults with a more nuanced and critical approach to the Second Amendment.

However long change takes, we can support reasonable gun legislation either by joining these teenagers in their March for Our Lives in Washington, or by finding ways locally to make March 24 a day that calls attention to the right of every child to attend school without fear of a mass shooting.

 

Carol Ascher, who lives in Sharon, Conn., has published seven books of fiction and nonfiction, as well as many essays and stories.