My country hurts. My country grieves. And maybe this time, my country will change.
Three of the ten deadliest mass shootings in modern US history have been in the last ten months — at a Las Vegas music festival in October 2017, a small-town Texas church a month later, and now at a high school in Florida.
All three involved the same type of weapon — a semi-automatic rifle designed for military use that has been available for purchase in the United States since a ban on sales ended in 2004.
Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old confessed shooter at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida legally owned one of these assault weapons, even though he was too young in the state to buy a beer.
Cruz had been expelled from Stoneman Douglas for disciplinary problems but returned on Valentine’s Day. He tripped a fire alarm and then went from hallway to hallway, shooting at students and teachers before blending into the crowd running from the building. He managed to stop at a local Walmart for something to drink before being taken into custody,
Fourteen teenagers died… three adults.
And there is a certain horrific irony here. These were the kids of Columbine.
Let me explain.
The first mass high school shooting in the United States took place at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999 — the very same year most of the seniors at Stoneman Douglas were born. They grew up knowing it could happen to them.
In some ways little has changed since Columbine — the nation’s leaders react to the news of mass shootings by consoling the grieving, sending “thoughts and prayers,” and by and large failing to address the underlying issue: the wide availability of these instruments of slaughter.
But the students from Parkland, Florida swear this time may be different – that a nation that has almost become numb to so much carnage is finally ready to do something about it.
And THEY are the reason why change may be on the way. After all the fear, grief and tears as they watched classmates and school staff being gunned down, these teenagers got angry and they began to demand action.
This was the first school shooting completely captured on cellphone video — remember: Columbine came just before the days of smartphones. The images captured by the trapped students at Stoneman Douglas are chilling and they are real. So too are the text messages these teens sent to parents and friends. Many have been shared with the world.
150,000 American kids have been affected by school shootings in one way or another since the days of Columbine. The students from Parkland, Florida have chosen to speak for all of them with a maturity well beyond their years.
At a rally just days after she witnessed the bloodshed, Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Stoneman Douglas, vowed that her school would be the site of America’s last mass shooting.
“The people in the government who are voted into power are lying to us. And us kids are the only ones who notice and are prepared to call B.S,” she said.
Within an hour, one video of her speech had been viewed 100,000 times.
Gonzalaz later told MSNBC: “This is our fight now, because you messed it up so badly that you left it to the kids. Now it’s our job, and you can’t try to take that back from us.”
And then she added that in America: “We are protecting guns more than people.”
Let that line sink in. An 18-year-old girl who has just witnessed the bloody massacre of friends and teachers is speaking truth to power. And she is far from alone.
There was this plea from David Hogg, another survivor, who looked into a TV camera and said: “We are children. You guys are the adults. Work together, come over your politics (put politics aside), and get something done.”
Until now, that has been easier said than done in Washington. The powerful lobby representing gun owners — the National Rifle Association — has been able to shut down the gun control debate, and has donated millions to the campaign coffers of politicians willing to go along.
Those politicians include President Trump. The only gun-related legislation he has signed since taking office was a law making it easier for some people with mental health issues to buy weapons.
His supporters are largely pro-gun and steadfastly believe the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives them the right to own any firearm they choose.
When he stopped in Parkland two days after the shooting, the president visited a hospital and thanked law enforcement. He never met with the families of the fallen. By the time four days had passed, Trump was tweeting that the FBI missed signs of a troubled teen capable of a mass shooting because it was too busy investigating Russia’s efforts to disrupt the 2016 US presidential campaign.
Contrast that with a tweet from one of the Stoneman Douglas students, a girl named Kyra:
“Despite having our hearts ripped out of our chests. Despite losing our friends and coaches. Despite living through a nightmare. As students of Douglas, we are the voice of this generation. And I’ll be damned if anyone thinks they can silence us.”
The Parkland, Florida kids say they are now on a mission. They are planning a “March for Our Lives” demonstration in Washington on March 24 and they are calling on students and teachers from around the country — many of whom will be on their spring break from classes — to join them.
Cameron Kasky, a 17-year-old junior at Stoneman Douglas said on national television: “We are going to be marching together as students begging for our lives. This isn’t about the GOP (the Republicans). This isn’t about the Democrats. This is about the adults. We feel neglected and at this point, you are either with us or against us.”
No one has been able to break the hold of the NRA. But these students are so articulate, you have got to wonder if maybe they can be the catalyst for some common sense gun control.
Polls routinely show that most Americans believe our gun laws are too lax. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll taken after the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas high school, 58 percent of those surveyed said stricter gun laws could have prevented the massacre.
The problem is the pro-gun movement is politically mobilized and active and in an election year (or any year, really) how far are some lawmakers willing to distance themselves from the NRA?
We may be about to find out. There is talk of what you might call “gun control on the margins” — things like improving the record keeping used to help screen people who want to buy guns… or outlawing a small device that enables an already deadly semiautomatic weapon to fire faster.
But that may not be enough for the kids from Stoneman Douglas. They can’t see why any civilian would ever need a military-style assault rifle that could become a killing machine.
Youth is impatient… youth won’t wait.
Youth may be the answer.