Don’t bet against the kids

March 16, 2018


And so, will our children finally lead us out of the wilderness of gun violence, which is literally slaughtering our young people before our eyes?

Have we finally reached a historic tipping point? Will we no longer be forced to listen to our feckless politicians, who yet again, offer their “thoughts and prayers” after another school shooting while they do absolutely nothing to stop the next one?

On March 24, the fearless young survivors of the February 14 high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, will lead a “March for Our Lives” in Washington,

D. C., to protest gun violence in America and to push for reform of our gun laws. Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to take part, along with many, many more at local marches around the country.

The young people who will lead the demonstration in our nation’s capital weren’t even born when the first school shooting at Columbine took place 19 years ago. They were 11 or 12 years old when 20 second graders and six adults were massacred at Sandy Hook. They were 15 or 16 or 17 when “they watched their friends, teachers, and coaches gunned down in the halls” at their high school in Parkland, says writer and teacher Tim Kreider.

And so, these teenagers are angry.

They know that gun homicide is now the second- leading cause of death among American teens aged 13 to 19. They know that civilians should not be able to buy weapons of war, such as the AR-15 assault rifle. They know that a consistent majority of Americans favors stricter gun laws, and support for universal background checks is almost unanimous. (Polls show that even a majority of National Rifle Association members support background checks.) They know that adults should be protecting them from violence.

And so, these teenagers are taking on the gun lobby and their enablers in Congress and the White House.

“It has been inspiring and thrilling,” writes Kreider, “to watch furious, clear-eyed teenagers shame and vilify gutless politicians and soul-dead lobbyists for their complicity in the murders of their friends.” Yes, it is.

More adults are finally beginning to move against this country’s mass shooting epidemic.

Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun policy reform group, has seen a 25 percent jump in membership since the Parkland shooting. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has opened 16 chapters since the Parkland shootings. Sandy Hook Promise, an advocacy group founded in 2012 after the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, has seen a wave of new supporters.

Support for gun control in the United States has now surged to its highest point in 25 years, with 68 percent of Americans favoring it.

Corporate America, which has to sense which way the public wind is blowing if it wishes to remain profitable, seems to be listening. At least 20 corporations have changed their gun sales policies in the past few weeks, including the behemoth L. L. Bean, which announced March 2 it will no longer sell guns or ammunition to anyone under the age of 21.

Historically, youth activism has often led the way to change. Think of the Greensboro sit- in in 1960, the university uprisings against the war in Vietnam in the late 1960s, Prague in 1968, Soweto in 1976, the intifada of the late ’80s, Seattle in the ’90s, and the Arab Spring in 2011.

Kids in America can’t break the stranglehold of the NRA by themselves, of course, especially because young people are among the least likely groups to vote. Energized, likeminded adults must help, and this means making it clear to our legislators they won’t get our vote unless they stop the slaughter by supporting common sense gun control.

In little more than a month, these fearless kids have already upended the usual debate about guns in this country.

These kids understand how to use social media. These kids have boundless energy. These kids are literally marching and texting and organizing for their lives.

I wouldn’t bet against them.

Jan Collins 2021-circle-crop

Jan Collins is a Columbia, South Carolina-based journalist, editor, and author. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard and former Congressional Fellow in Washington, D. C., she is the coauthor of Next Steps: A Practical Guide to Planning for the Best Half of Your Life (Quill Driver Books, 2009).