What if they held a memorial service for victims of a school shooting and millions of high school students in the country attended?
Remarkably, that’s just about what took place yesterday in Flagstaff and across the nation one month after the 17 deaths in Parkland, Fla. One minute of a walkout for every death, one empty chair, one bouquet of flowers. Add them up at thousands of schools, and there are very few high school students who aren’t engaged with the issue of gun violence in a visceral way.
Whether that engagement leads to substantive policy changes that reduce or even prevent more senseless slaughter in our schools is another question. But pundits far and wide are using words like “watershed moment” and “turning point” as students confront elected officials and the NRA over gun laws that are among the world’s most liberal -- and lethal.
Granted, Wednesday’s walkout events, at least locally, were short on policy prescriptions and long on anger and frustration. But next week the focus turns to a nationwide march on Washington, where student leaders are expected to coalesce around a set of gun control demands and an action plan for the 2018 elections.
If all of this sounds familiar, then you are likely a Baby Boomer and remember how the rising carnage in Vietnam – as shown for the first time on the nightly TV news -- galvanized an entire generation against the war. Parkland students used the medium of their generation – the Internet – to transmit real-time Instagram photos during the shooting, and suddenly the whole world could experience life under fire inside a U.S. high school.
A month ago we applauded the students’ incipient activism but questioned their staying power in the face of what we assumed would be a solid wall of NRA-financed resistance. We’re happy to say we were wrong on most counts – the Florida legislature has already passed a series of modest gun control laws, President Trump has announced a blue-ribbon commission on school safety and even Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has expressed support for allowing families and others to seek court-ordered removal of guns from someone deemed likely a threat to others.
In most other countries, these steps would amount to tokenism, if that. But for decades, the U.S. has had no meaningful discussion, much less policy changes, on guns, so firm has been the “slippery slope” Second Amendment argument of the NRA and its hold over the campaign treasuries of elected officials. So even one or two steps toward sensible gun safety have to be seen as a victory.
And what does sensible gun control look like? Here’s a list that we’ve supported dating back to the Columbine High massacre in 1999:
-- mandatory background checks for all purchases, including at gun shows and over the Internet.
-- reinstating the ban on military-style assault weapons
--until such a ban is instituted, raising from 18 to 21 the age at which assault weapons can be purchased.
-- limiting the size of the magazines to 10 bullets;
—provide greater access under the law to mental health records to prevent persons with serious mental illness from purchasing weapons;
—ban the sale of armor-piercing bullets;
—expand restrictions on gun possession and ownership to those with a history of domestic violence and stalking
—repeal the ban on studies by the Centers for Disease Control on the effects of gun ownership and use on public health
—lengthen the waiting period for gun purchases when background checks have been delayed.
Not all of those proposals will be enacted at once – as Baby Boomers know, the war in Vietnam didn’t end overnight. But as we noted a month ago, the stonewalling in Congress and the Arizona Legislature on gun controls against overwhelming public support – now including high schoolers who soon will vote -- speaks to a larger inability of elected leaders to move beyond the agendas of special interests to enact long overdue reform. If the NRA wants to goad students into making an end to gun violence the rallying cry of their generation, we say, “Game on.” From what we’ve seen so far, the odds are not in the NRA’s favor this time.