On Valentine’s Day, we once again witnessed the senseless slaughter of Americans; this time 17 teenagers murdered by a classmate at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
April 20 is the 19th anniversary of Columbine, where 15 children were killed by two of their classmates. Since then, massacres have occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary (28 dead), Virginia Tech (33), and Umpqua Community College (10). There also have been bloodbaths in San Bernardino (16 dead), Orlando (49), Sutherland, Texas (27) and Las Vegas (59).
The usual weapon of choice in these killings? The AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
Following each mass shooting, the response is predictable. Politicians express concerns for victims, their families, and about mental illness. There are calls not to “politicize” the issue of guns out of respect for the dead. Public outcries for change emerge, but none are forthcoming.
A frustrated survivor of the Orlando carnage challenges politicians, “After first graders were gunned down at Sandy Hook, what did you do? Not a damn thing. After 49 people, including my two brothers, were murdered at Pulse, what did you do? Not a damn thing. Now we’re here again….”
This time, however, children across America are rising up in the long tradition of young people standing up when few others do — from the streets of Budapest, to South Carolina lunch counters, to Soweto, to facing down tanks in Tiananmen Square — now Parkland, Florida.
The #neveragain movement has taken off with the ambitious goal of making Parkland the last school shooting in America. The voices of the children who survived Marjory Stoneman Douglas are more powerful than anything I might pen.
Lorenzo Prado, “To let these victims’ lives be taken without any change is an act of treason to our great country. What we must do now is enact change because that is what we do to things that fail: We change them.”
Florence Yared, “The right to bear arms does not and never will overpower the individual’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We cannot protect our guns before we protect our children.”
Emma Gonzalez, “To those who say no laws could have prevented the tragedies that have occurred, we call BS; who say that we kids don’t know what we’re talking about and are too young to understand how government works, we call BS!”
The students’ comments and efforts at organizing immediately drew dismissive claims that they are “kids” with no right to comment, despite their experiences as survivors and witnesses to the slaughter. One theory quickly spread on conservative social media that the whole incident was faked and smeared the students as being paid actors.
Nonetheless, a young man attending the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), where NRA spokespersons rejected calls for change, says he understands the Parklands students’ actions, “Because it’s happening to my generation; this hasn’t happened to any other generation.”
Another CPAC student attendee says she doesn’t agree with the students, but she thinks what they are doing is “awesome.”
The Guardian refers to today’s young people as the post-Columbine Generation. They were born shortly after that tragedy and have grown up practicing Code Red drills — hiding under desks and crowding into closets. They have also witnessed continuing legislative inaction, even after nearly 200 people have been killed at Sandy Hook, the Pulse night club, that Sutherland Springs church, and the Las Vegas Route 91 Harvest Music Festival.
A recent New York Times article recalls another St. Valentine’s Day Massacre that took place in a garage on Chicago’s North Side 70 years before Columbine. The weapon used was the first fully automatic firearm, the Thompson submachine gun. The gun came too late for World War I, so the manufacturer marketed it as a self-defense weapon that could be purchased more easily than a handgun.
Five years after the St. Valentines’ Day Massacre, the first federal gun control act was passed to keep the “Tommy gun” out of private hands.
The article concludes, “We should be ashamed that the killing of criminals 90 years ago helped spur change, while the repeated slaughter of children prompts little more than thoughts and prayers.”
David Hogg, another Parkland survivor, says. “We’re children, you’re the adults. You need to take some action. Work together. Get over your politics and get something done.”
Rather than belittling or mocking young people for standing up, we might adapt the words of the Grateful Dead, “Somebody has to do something and it’s incredibly pathetic that it has to be children …”
Tom Brown is a St. Helena resident who served as a dean at Saint Mary’s College of California for 27 years. He is currently a consultant and speaker at colleges and universities that are seeking to help more students to succeed. Send comments, questions or suggestions for future columns to: firstname.lastname@example.org