Opinion

RENÉE GRAHAM

Post-Columbine teens take the lead with #NeverAgain

RHONA WISE/AFP/Getty Images
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Cameron Kasky speaks at a rally for gun control at the Broward County Federal Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Feb. 17.

With his Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School classmates, Cameron Kasky has already done more to advocate for an assault weapons ban than a decade’s worth of GOP legislators. Yet in the aftermath of a mass shooting last week at his Parkland, Fla., school that left 17 dead and more than a dozen injured, Kasky chastised himself for not doing something sooner.

“I hate that it took hitting me right at home for me to get involved with this,” Kasky, a founder of the #NeverAgain movement, told CBS News reporter Adriana Diaz. “But I just have to forgive myself for that and keep moving.”

Kasky, 17, has no need to apologize. We should apologize to him — and every school kid terrified that they might be the next casualties of our nation’s fatal attraction to guns.

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Stoneman Douglas was the worst school shooting since the Sandy Hook massacre, in 2012. The “worst” certainly doesn’t mean the only, with hundreds of other school shootings since 20 first-graders and six adults were slaughtered in Newtown, Conn.

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And those are just in schools. Between Sandy Hook and Parkland, hundreds have been killed and injured at a San Bernardino holiday party, an Orlando nightclub, a Las Vegas country music concert, and a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church, to name a few. At this point, there’s at least one mass shooting — four or more killed or injured in a single setting — a day.

These students have had enough. They’ve had a “lie-in” in front of the White House, and will hold a rally this week in Tallahassee, Florida’s capital, to push for gun reform. Students have also planned a national “March for Our Lives” on March 24, and a second event on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre.

As for us, we’ve let these children — our own and others — down. We should have addressed this problem, leaning on legislators until they enacted laws that would remove from our streets weapons explicitly designed to kill a lot of people in seconds. We should have lent our collective weight to the bereaved Newtown parents as they tried, in vain, to convince Republican lawmakers to endorse even the most basic gun measures, back in 2013.

It is our own fault that politicians, in a blood trust with the NRA, offer empty “thoughts and prayers” as they back away from confronting one of this nation’s most vexing, yet easily solved, dilemmas. So here we are again, as another community buries its children and those who died trying to protect them from the horror that stalked their classrooms and hallways.

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No one should ever say what happened in Florida can’t happen “here.” In cities and towns large and small, it happens all the time. We can’t behave as if any community is immune to this epidemic, or delay action until we or those we love are the ones ducking the bullets.

That’s what it took for Caleb Keeter, a guitarist for the Josh Abbott Band, to abandon his pro-gun stance. He played the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas a few hours before a gunman opened fire on concertgoers, killing 58 and wounding hundreds.

“I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was,” Keeter posted on Twitter after the massacre. “We need gun control RIGHT. NOW. My biggest regret is that I stubbornly didn’t realize it until my brothers on the road and myself were threatened by it.”

If you live in America, you’re always threatened by it. This post-Columbine generation, which has never known school life without active shooter drills, is now doing the hard work that lawmakers, and those who elected them, will not. On social media, trolls are trying to smear and demean these teens. I have a sense they will not be easily deterred. They’ve already endured terrors beyond measure — running for their lives and watching their classmates die.

Convincing politicians that children are more valuable than NRA donations should not be the work of high school kids. It is our duty to protect them, and our inaction has made us complicit. Like Act Up and Black Lives Matter, the #NeverAgain movement is fighting to save their own lives. Unimaginable horror has already come to their doorstep. Now they are trying to make sure it never comes to ours.

Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.