Last Friday, smoke from the griddles in the cafeteria of the Newton North High School set off the smoke alarm. But, as one student put it, “No one wanted to leave because they were scared about what happened in Florida. As I was walking down the stairs, I kept looking out the windows to make sure no one was outside.”
The worry that a fire alarm could be the beginning of an ambush is the reality for all American schoolchildren in 2018. Once it was “duck and cover.” Now, students marinate in fear of mass shooters. The generation born after the Columbine High School killings is coming of age at a time when that atrocity no longer ranks in the top 10 deadliest massacres in modern US history.
On March 24, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, site of the lethal attack last week, will lead a nationwide demonstration calling for gun safety legislation. “This isn’t about the GOP,” survivor Cameron Kasky said on ABC News. “This isn’t about the Democrats. This is about the adults. We feel neglected, and at this point, you’re either with us or against us.”
“Why is your right to own an AR-15 more important than a kid’s right to feel safe?” survivor Sophie Whitney asked NPR. “It’s not, it is common sense.” A Facebook page established by students here shows more than 4,000 planning to attend on Boston Common. It’s an uplifting act of civic engagement and leadership by young people that deserves support from schools and parents.
Unfortunately for this inspiring group of activists and their noble cause, common sense has little currency in the gun debate in the United States.
More than 6 in 10 Americans say that lawmakers aren’t doing enough to prevent mass shootings, according to a new poll from The Washington Post and ABC News. A majority support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons. A poll from Quinnipiac found that 97 percent of Americans support requiring background checks for all gun buyers. That’s as close to a universal sentiment as the country’s ever likely to have.
President Trump, who has been in office for three of the 10 deadliest US mass shootings, said Monday he is supportive of a good bill, cosponsored by Connecticut senator Chris Murphy, to improve the federal background check system. On Wednesday, the White House directed the Justice Department to look into banning gun modifications like bump stocks, which were used in the Las Vegas attack. (The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has said in the past that they need legal authority from Congress in order to ban the devices.)
But, while laudable, these steps alone are inadequate to cauterize the wound created by Congress, the National Rifle Association, and the weapons industry, all of whom have helped flood the country with weapons of war and then resisted countless common-sense efforts to regulate them. Demographics are working against the NRA and the political lackies it purchases. Voters in November should give these elected representatives a firm shove toward the exits. That’s not soon enough for the generations of children so traumatized by the violence that they can’t help but feel relief when a fire alarm is only for a fire.