Teens brave the status quo

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

“Here are the rules,” said the teenager at the podium. “No rudeness. No backstory of your own. No revealing of your party affiliation. Questions only.”

So started a town meeting conducted by students from Lakeland, Florida’s Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School on the subject of gun laws. On Valentine’s Day, a shooter entered that school and killed 14 students and three teachers.

Within a week of the massacre, students initiated a movement called “#NeverAgain”. Within days they traveled to Florida’s state capital Tallahassee to insist that legislators pass gun laws with teeth, and they traveled to the nation’s capital to ask the President for his help in encouraging his party to do the same in Congress.

They instigated a national march on March 24 called “March for Life” which galvanized millions across the country.

They are now on the road in Florida, visiting one gathering place in each county to hold question-and-answer sessions with citizens concerned about gun terrorism in their local schools. Aside from keeping the issue alive and informing the uninformed about guns, their goal is to register as many eligible teens as possible to vote in November’s midterm elections.

At the forum I attended the students spoke calmly and used both facts and emotion to answer questions from the audience. Many of the questioners were sympathetic and asked questions like, “How do older people like us involved?” “What can we do?”

Or questions like this: “What have you [students] done to prevent gun violence?” A shy girl on the panel stood up for that question and said, “I am in this group in honor of my best friend, who was killed. I am a child. He was a child. That is not a good question.”
Two fellows from the audience came separately to the mic well-rehearsed from the same script: “I am an American, I am a Christian, I am a member of the NRA,” they said in turn.
The student directing the proceedings said to the first NRA questioner, “No personal information, please.”

And then the next guy did it, too: “I am an American….” After giving their bonafides, which they had been asked not to do, rather than question, as they had been instructed, they both made this statement — “Guns are not the problem.”

The students from the beginning of this movement to face down the tragedy happening again had made it clear that guns are the problem and that the students are determined to make the adults, the legislators and the gun owners see this.

Sara said she joined the group “to inspire activism; local first, then national.” She also said, “That day, it was mostly anger. I ranted. And then I attended Emma Gonzalez’s speech. And here I am. I don’t want this movement to have to exist, but I am happy to be here to inspire voting and to change what’s going on.”

[Emma Gonzalez has been in the news as a Stoneman Douglas anti-gun-violence organizer of laudatory enthusiasm, intelligence and charisma. Four days after the horror, she gave a speech on national media, where she was silent on-air for nearly two minutes to honor her fallen schoolmates and teachers; and then she called out “B.S.” to lawmakers who accept money from the NRA and lie about what can be done about guns. Look her up; she inspires.]

Victoria said, “This is our world. We are the future and we are the present, unlike you old people. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but we’re certainly going to try.”

Sabrina said, “Keeping this movement alive is important and is going to happen even though the media is no longer on it. It’s not even feasible to get rid of guns, which isn’t what we want to do anyway. We just need to rein in this big problem.”

Vance said, “The one civic duty you have – if you vote, you have a voice. We started the dialogue to end gun violence. Now we want bipartisanship and compromise. The people we vote in to represent us must be the change that does that.”

Tally said, “In many countries you are automatically registered to vote when you’re born so that come voting time, you can vote.”

David said, “We want to empower the youth; their voices matter. Many students do not feel that they matter at all. One of the goals of this group is to encourage all to speak.”
Soon after the murders in their school, this group of kids started calling themselves and their peers across the country “the school shooting generation.” How pitiful is that?

But, the United States is less than five percent of the world population and we own more than 42 percent of the guns on this planet.
o Ninety-six Americans are killed by guns each day.
o There are 130,000 gun homicides a year in the U.S.
o For every one person killed with guns, two more are injured.
o Sixty percent of firearm deaths in the U.S. are suicides
o Seven children and teens are killed with guns in the U.S. every day.
o Any month, 50 women are shot to death by intimate partners in the U.S.*
*[these figures are from everytownresearch.org: a research and study non-profit against gun violence]

Clearly, the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas high schoolers have their heads on straight, in spite of and because of a massacre that took place before their eyes to people they knew and loved. They now keep their purpose before them at all times. I hope you get to see them on TV or in person. They are informed, funny, serious, articulate and determined. They impress me no end.

Robert Kennedy in South Africa in the 1960s in answer to the problems there of apartheid said, “Our answer is the world’s hope – it is to rely on youth.”

I’m with him.

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