By Joseph Jones
One month after a gunman killed fourteen students and three staff members at a school in Parkland, Florida, thousands of students from across the country from nearly 3, 000 schools participated in the National Student Walkout. Facing the threat of detention, the students, armed only with picket signs, chants, and hope for change, walked of class for seventeen minutes, one minute for each of the victims of one of the most deadly school shootings in history.
By marching, reading the names of the victims, gathering in the front of the White House and, in the case of one school in Los Angeles, filling a football field with people laying down and spelling out the word “Enough”, these students turned activists expressed outrage at the senseless violence that has ravaged this country, and how very little has been done to prevent it.
Part solidarity and part tribute, the purpose of the protest was to call attention to inadequate firearm regulations in the United States. Organizers of the demonstration demanded three actions from Congress: a ban on assault weapons, require universal background checks before gun sales, and pass a gun violence restraining order law that would allow the court to disarm people who display warning signs of violent behavior.
The last month has been a wave of momentum for students turned advocates, who up until the shooting had only homework and exams to worry about. They are now the leading voices for gun reform on the national stage and have reignited the gun control debate with unprecedented passion. Activists have written letters to lawmakers urging for stricter gun measures, signed petitions to curb sales of high-powered weapons, and criticized companies with partnerships with the NRA. As a result from this pressure and scrutiny, sixteen companies have jumped on the #boycottNRA bandwagon.
By squaring off with the NRA, the activists and their cause have been in the cross-hairs of the gun industry’s most powerful ally. In a statement from gun lobby, ”The law-abiding members of the NRA had nothing at all to do with the failure of that school’s security preparedness, the failure of America’s mental health system, the failure of the National Instant Check System or the cruel failures of both federal and local law enforcement. Despite that, some corporations have decided to punish NRA membership in a shameful display of political and civic cowardice."
The NRA stuck to their guns and took aim at a controversial bill passed by Florida Governor Rick Scott in response to the shooting. The organization filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the bill, which would raise the minimum age for buying rifles to 21, establish waiting periods and background checks, allow arming of some teachers and hiring of school police, ban bump stocks, and bar some potentially violent or mentally unhealthy people from possessing guns.
Students have made it clear they will not blink, or back down in the face opposition from the NRA. Plans are still underway for the March for Our Lives on March 24th in Washington, D.C. An estimated 500, 000 people are expected to participate, with more than 580 sister marches are planned to stand in support, with at least one march in each state, and even in part of Europe, India, and Japan.
History is unfolding in the here and now as members of the millennial generation and younger have made it their mission to speak truth to power and fight for the change they want to see in their country. As a group with very little political clout, they have educated themselves on current legislation, how to understand the current political climate and who are the movers and shakers in that previously uncharted territory, and how to use social media to tailor and broadcast their message of reform to the world.
This Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. generation has seen the fallout of one too many mass shootings to know that “thoughts and prayers” are useless and will not bring back their fallen classmates, nor will act as a shield to protect the victims of future shootings. In an impassioned speech on February 17th, one of the leaders of the movement, Emma Gonzalez, a senior at the school where the Parkland shooting occurred, made her disdain quite clear.
“If the President wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy and how it should never have happened and maintain telling us how nothing is going to be done about it, I'm going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association.You want to know something? It doesn't matter, because I already know. Thirty million dollars. And divided by the number of gunshot victims in the United States in the one and one-half months in 2018 alone, that comes out to being $5,800. Is that how much these people are worth to you, Trump? If you don't do anything to prevent this from continuing to occur, that number of gunshot victims will go up and the number that they are worth will go down. And we will be worthless to you”
The fiery Gonzalez and others like her are reminiscent of leaders of other grand movements for monumental social change, such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the civil rights movement, Harvey Milk for the Lesbian and Gay liberation movement. Like Dr. King and Milk, these students represent a minority group who feel in some way persecuted by those who hold the power in the society. Following the footsteps of the youth protesting the Vietnam War and advocating for women’s suffrage, this generation is moving forward with tenacity and determination and will likely not rest until their agenda has been carried out.
The worth of millennial’s has been dismissed and they have been falsely characterized as lazy, entitled “snowflakes” that want everything handed to them for free, without ever having to lift a finger for themselves. This movement has proved that stereotype holds no truth when held under a critical light. These millennial “snowflakes” have been working day and night to educate society, demand new gun legislation, and fight to create a safer world where students, as well as everyone else, can live their life without fear of themselves, their friend, or their loved ones dying at the hands of a someone with a weapon they shouldn’t have had access to.
While there is an amendment protecting the right to own firearms, these weapons have been used time and time again to inflict irreparable harm and claim innocent lives. According to The Washington Post, there have 150 mass shootings in the U.S. since 1966, with 1, 077 people killed in those tragedies. Until our nation stops enabling our own gun fetish and places restrictions on the selling and possession of firearms, enforces strict background check measures, and bans high powered assault weapons, those numbers are going to continue to rise. Families will continue to grief for their loved ones, while the nation ponders what we could have done to prevent those shootings.
I am proud of members of my generation who are standing up and taking a stance against flimsy gun regulation which allows the gun industry to exploit the system and unhindered access to dangerous weapons. Some people may call me a “snowflake” for taking an emotional stance on guns, but, go ahead, call me a snowflake. That just means I am part of something greater than myself, and although one individual snowflake doesn’t make an impact, when I stand with other snowflakes, we can become a blizzard.