In the almost 20 years since the killings at Columbine High School in April 1999, we have learned a few things. We have learned that the rhetoric around shootings and gun control has remained the same. In the immediate aftermath of the carnage, it has always been “too soon” to bring up gun control. “Thoughts and prayers” have been distributed in abundance, and any efforts to steer the conversation towards legislative measures to prevent future massacres have been met with accusations of “politicizing a tragedy.” Columbine was a watershed moment in the history of guns and schools in America. Yet, two of America’s worst school shootings, Virginia Tech in 2007, and Sandy Hook in 2012, happened after Columbine. In the 20 years since the worst mass shooting in UK history in Dunblane, Scottland in 1996, where 16 children and their teacher were killed, there have been zero school shootings in the UK. In Australia, after 35 people were killed with a semi-automatic weapon in a popular tourist area in Port Arthur, Tasmania, rapid-fire guns were banned. Since that incident, Australia has had zero mass shootings, where a mass shooting is one in which 5 or more people are killed. Assault weapons, whose only purpose is to decimate, are legal in the US, and appear to be the weapon of choice in the majority of recent mass shootings. We have learned, in the almost 20 years since Columbine, that a powerful organization run by entitled white men can buy over politicians, year after year, to squash common sense gun laws protecting citizens. We have learned that year after year, after Sandy Hook and San Bernadino, and Isla Vista and Orlando and Las Vegas and Charleston and Sutherland, Texas, gun control advocates have been silenced by the GOP minions of the NRA. The massacre at Parkland, Florida, however, is somehow different. A tipping point has been reached; there is a new perspective, and it is gaining momentum.
In addition to the blood on its hands for all the youth killed in schools and colleges, the NRA, along with the GOP in its pocket, has been subjecting children to trauma that is akin to what combat veterans on the front lines of a war might face: running for their lives, seeing peers mowed down by high-velocity bullets geared to annihilate, cowering inside closets or behind furniture for hours, not knowing if they will ever get out of there alive. Having grown up in the backdrop of the carnage at Sandy Hook and a culture that takes gun safety in school very seriously, but not gun reform seriously, these children- the survivors of the massacre at Stoneman Douglas in Parkland- are aware that the adults in power have done nothing to mitigate decades of school shootings. They realize that they have to advocate for themselves. The NRA’s ploy to divert attention from the real problem with cries of “too soon” isn’t going to work on these children who thrive on instant communication. The GOP’s holier-than-thou stance of offering “thoughts and prayers” because they have nothing of substance to say in defense of normalizing the presence of assault weapons in civilians’ hands will not hold these children back: When Trump offered, in a tweet, his "prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school," Sarah Chadwick, a survivor from Parkland responded:
“I don’t want your condolences you fucking piece of shit, my friends and teachers were shot. Multiple of my fellow classmates are dead. Do something instead of sending prayers. Prayers won’t fix this. But Gun control will prevent it from happening again.”
Later, this same girl reached out again:
“Dear Donald Trump, I’m the 16 year old girl who tweeted you and told you i didn’t want your condolences, I wanted gun control, and went viral because of it. I heard you’re coming to my community soon and I would like to express my opinions on gun control to you face to face.”
Three days after the killings, at a rally outside the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale where students and teachers of Stoneman Douglas had gathered to make their voices heard, Emma Gonzales, a senior at Douglas spoke about “calling B.S” on all the lies preventing common sense gun laws from being adopted. She said: “If all our government and president can do is send ‘thoughts and prayers,’ then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see.” She added: “To every politician taking donations from the NRA- Shame. On. You,” at which point the crowd erupted into chants of “shame on you.” She reminded the audience that in February 2017, Trump repealed an Obama-era regulation that “would have made it easier to block the sale of firearms to people with certain mental illnesses.” She pointed out that “we need to pay attention to the fact that this isn’t just a mental health issue.” Then emotionally she added that “he wouldn’t have hurt that many students with a knife.” Emma Gonzales then went on to attacking the government and the NRA for its bullshit, with the crowd responding in refrain- “we call B.S”:
“The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and are prepared to call B.S.
Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the N.R.A., telling us nothing could ever be done to prevent this: we call B.S….
They say that tougher gun laws do not prevent gun violence: we call B.S.”
In her rousing speech outside the Fort Lauderdale courthouse, Emma Gonzales declared that “we are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks not because we are going to be another statistic about mass shootings in America but because….we are going to be the last mass shooting.”
In the four days since the shooting, groups of students from across the country have already organized efforts to make their personal tragedy their political quest. On Saturday, March 24th, the March For Our Lives will take place in Washington DC and other major cities where school children and their families will march “to demand that their lives and safety become a priority and that we end gun violence and mass shootings in our schools today.” The mission statement of this event further targets the non-action of politicians: “In the tragic wake of the 17 lives brutally cut short in Florida, politicians are telling us that now is not the time to talk about guns. March For Our Lives believes the time is now.” Cameron Kasky, a junior from Stoneman Douglas, and one the students behind the march has given several news interviews about the online movement that fellow students are organizing called #NEVERAGAIN MSD. In an interview on NPR, Kasky held Florida’s governor and senator accountable for the shooting: “And our lawmakers Rick Scott and Marco Rubio - they have the blood of 17 people on their hands, and we are not apologizing for telling them that they're gone. It’s over with them.” Kasky elaborated in another interview along with a panel of 4 other student organizers including Emma Gonzales that their aim is to "create a new normal where there’s a badge of shame on any politician who’s accepting money from the NRA, no matter where they are. Because at the end of the day, the NRA is promoting and fostering this gun culture….” In an interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN, Kasky aimed again at the NRA – “I think that after every shooting, the NRA sends them (the GOP) a memo saying ‘send your thoughts and prayers,’ let’s not talk about it now….” The students from Parkland have taken matters into their own hands because “the adults in office have let us down.” To Trump they said: “You haven’t taken a single bill for mental health care or gun control and passed it. And that’s pathetic. We’ve seen a government shutdown. We’ve seen tax reform but nothing to save our children’s lives.”
April 20, 2018 will be the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting. Most of the children organizing this new movement towards gun reform hadn’t even been born when Columbine happened. Yet, they are the ones who are now leading the way, and the adults are following: In “An open letter to the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School,” Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee and Yasmine Taeb, DNC committeewoman from Virginia who attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School said:
“We give you our word that the Democratic Party will work to prevent anything like what happened at your school from happening again.”
It’s now time for the Republicans to follow suit. To cut their purse strings with the NRA and support common sense gun laws. If they don’t, they will be voted out of office, because, as Cameron Kasky pointed out in an op-ed on CNN “my generation won’t stand for this.”
In less than a week after the tragedy at Parkland, the children of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have inspired a national following to revisit gun control. Imagine what they will do in the months to come. The tide is changing. Spread the word. Join and support their movement.
March for our Lives
Emma Gonzales' speech
Parkland students on Face the Nation