Last weekend, some 800,000 Americans took to the streets of Washington, D.C. to demand action on gun violence. Back here in Nevada, large crowds gathered in Las Vegas and Reno to amplify that demand. The marches across the nation were certainly stunning spectacles, but will they result in any kind of lasting change? What makes this push for gun violence prevention any different from past efforts that concluded in the all too familiar state of stalemate?
Is this time different? Let’s discuss how the March for Our Lives can change this nation.
This isn’t our first time experiencing a mass shooting
Gun violence isn’t a new issue. Rather, it’s a familiar problem that’s been allowed to become a lingering crisis. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 80,000 Americans died from gunshot wounds in 2016. Think about that for a moment. For all our fears about car safety, train derailments, viral diseases, and foreign terrorist organizations, about 80,000 people died two years ago as a result of something that’s become so readily available across America.
What seems more remarkable is that it’s taken this long for this problem to be taken this seriously by “mainstream media”, and then reach the core of the nation’s conscience. Even after our own Las Vegas Strip suffered the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history on 1 October, the national media quickly lost interest and bump stocks remained available on the civilian market. What’s different this time, if anything?
It’s an epidemic, and no one seems immune
I won’t repeat what I already wrote over the weekend about the March for Our Lives. The march was born in yet another moment of tragedy: the shooting in Parkland, Florida, that claimed 17 lives and affected countless others. But this time, something feels different.
I felt that difference on Pennsylvania Avenue. I ran into a mother and teenage son who drove up from Charleston, South Carolina, where a gunman opened fire on Emanuel AME Church and killed nine people on June 17, 2015. I also noticed the many students who came from Chicago and Baltimore to urge their fellow Americans to stop ignoring the epidemic that stolen far too many lives in their communities. And I witnessed thousands of other students from across the nation who came to Washington to show their solidarity.
The Parkland Shooting occurred in a mostly white and affluent community. The Charleston Shooting happened inside a historically African-American church. Baltimore and Chicago have made headlines in recent years for their alarmingly high rates of gun deaths, gun deaths that primarily occur in working-poor communities where the residents are mostly African-American. There are so many differences between these places, yet these people all came together to send a critical message to the nation’s elected leaders.
Marching into the movement
Are we stumbling upon a major development here? For so long, gun violence has been portrayed as something that happens to “those people over there”. It wouldn’t happen at our high school, would it? It wouldn’t happen at our concert, would it? It wouldn’t happen in our neighborhood, would it?
It seems like our youth are realizing something that far too many of our elders preferred not to acknowledge: This is all our issue. It’s not just a matter of “urban crime”. It’s not just a matter of “school safety”. And it’s not just a matter of “mental health”.
There’s a common denominator here, one that we simply can’t afford to ignore any longer. While this is often an intersectional issue that should make us take matters like institutional racism, public education, and mental health care more seriously, there’s no reason to sweep under the rug the common denominator of guns.
These kids are marching on… And they’re taking the lead
Before the walkouts began, it was easy to dismiss these students as just “misguided youth” who were allegedly too busy eating Tide Pods and too desperate to attract Instagram likes. It’s harder to continue doing so when we see organizers registering people to vote. It’s even harder to continue doing so when we see students confronting members of Congress on their fealty to the NRA and the gun lobby.
This march probably would have been very different had the adults taken over. Perhaps this would have been seen as part of the “2020 shadow primary”. Maybe this would have devolved into yet another round of hot takes centered on who goes where in the D.C. cocktail party circuit. It’s possible this would have been seen as “just a desperate stunt by the same gun control groups who’ve been fighting the same fight for nearly three decades”.
Instead, the kids took the lead. They got the message across. They got the media’s attention, and they made sure the media paid attention to the actual issue at stake. They are now leading the resistance, and they are showing us how to get this stuff done.
Maybe, just maybe, these kids can accomplish what we adults couldn’t do. Maybe it’s time we let them lead the way.