Listen to the students who march for their lives

The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board

If you had any doubt about the power of young people to change the world, consider the turnout for Saturday’s March for Our Lives events in Washington, D.C., Parkland, and cities across the globe.

For anyone who’s wondered whether the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School could sustain their push for common-sense gun laws, Saturday proved their movement is no fleeting moment.

In fact, their cause has only grown since senior Emma Gonzalez called “B.S.” at a downtown Fort Lauderdale rally, three days after a gunman entered the Parkland school and killed 17 people and wounded 17 others.

The rally was followed by a riveting CNN town hall. Then, a round of Sunday morning talk shows, newspaper interviews, a national school walkout, a “60 Minutes” segment, the cover of Time magazine and more attention every day.

And Saturday in D.C., hundreds of thousands of people of all ages, races and creeds joined them in calling for laws to curb the scourge of mass shootings.

“This is not the end. This is just the beginning,” student David Hogg told a CNN interviewer.

This isn’t the first time young people have set about creating the change they wanted to see. During the 1960s, anti-war protests on college campuses helped bring about an end to the Vietnam War. And the murder of three young civil rights workers — killed for trying to register African Americans to vote — sparked a national outrage that helped Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others gain passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

But who would have thought today’s youth — who call themselves the “mass shooting generation” — would have to take to the streets to demand protection from the firearms industry?

Make no mistake, these young people and their army are focused on politicians who’ve sworn blind allegiance to the NRA and refuse to pass common-sense gun laws.

Their message is clear: Enough is enough.

Their demands are simple: Ban AR-15s and similar military-style assault rifles that make mass killings so easy; outlaw the sale of high-capacity magazines, which let killers shoot 20 or 30 people before having to reload; and require universal background checks on all gun purchases, including those from private dealers in homes, online and at gun shows.

This movement has nothing to do with taking away everybody’s guns, as the NRA would have you believe. It’s about keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of people intent on doing harm.

It’s what a majority of Americans want. Sixty-nine percent of Americans support tougher gun-control laws, according a recent poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

So do 54 percent of gun owners, the poll says.

Cynics say Saturday’s marches were a feel-good moment that will do nothing to break the NRA’s stranglehold on Congress. They will remind you that Congress did nothing after a Washington march for gun control five years ago, after 20 elementary school children and six adults were killed in Newtown, Conn.

But this time is different. After hiding in closets or under desks, these students are making themselves impossible to ignore, not just on television and in the press, but on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms.

Just a few weeks after the massacre, they scored an early victory. With their parents, they shamed the Florida Legislature into passing the state’s first gun regulations in decades.

The new law raises the minimum age to buy any firearm to 21 and extends the waiting period to three days. It also banned bump stocks, a deadly accessory that allows rapid-fire rifles to shoot even faster. And it allows some school staffers to carry guns if they volunteer and undergo training — a misguided response that could put more children at risk of accidental shootings.

But the law failed to address the single biggest denominator in mass shootings: assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

With Stoneman Douglas shooting in mind, Broward students register to vote

Still, give the students and their parents their due. They created a political seismic shift in Tallahassee. And they are not done.

Sadly, the people who control Congress refuse to listen. Neither Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell nor House Speaker Paul Ryan found the time to meet with the students during their visit to the Capitol this week.

But those who refuse to listen will pay a price. Yes, the NRA contributes a lot of money to political campaigns, and its members are single-issue voters, which makes it a force to be reckoned with.

“Politicians, represent the people or get out of the way,” student Cameron Kasky said as the march began in D.C. “Stand for us or beware. The voters are coming.”

A more than one-mile-long line of demonstrators in West Palm Beach marched within shouting distance of Mar-a-Lago on Saturday, making sure President Trump didn’t miss the gun-control message during his weekend getaway.

“We need change,” said Nicole Garro, a 17-year-old junior at Seminole Ridge High School in Loxahatchee. “Kids need to feel safe in their schools.”

The president and Congress would do well to listen. Because the young marchers who filled the streets Saturday have a lifetime of Election Day marches to the voting booth still to come.

As one of the signs on the march to Mar-a-Lago said: “Remember in November.”

The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board

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