The United States is failing in what surely is the first duty of government — protecting our children from threats that they cannot deal with themselves. Voters and politicians are failing our children.
After 17 students and teachers were killed and a dozen wounded on Valentine’s Day by an unbalanced 19-year-old firing an AR-15 rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the students vowed no more as they buried their friends.
Young organizers are reaching out to students across the country to enlist them in a national drive to force action on sensible gun laws. As a first step, they’ve called for a national demonstration in Washington on March 24 called March for Our Lives. More demonstrations across the country will come.
“We want this to stop. We need this to stop. We are protecting guns more than people,” said Emma Gonzalez, 18, one of five core organizers, as reported in The New York Times. “We are not trying to take people’s guns away; we are trying to make sure we have gun safety.”
Gonzalez, a student at the Florida school, invited politicians from any party to join, but she warned: “We don’t want anybody who is funded by the NRA. We want people who are going to be on the right side of history.”
In a stunning opinion piece in The New York Times, Christine Yared, 15, a freshman at the school who huddled in a closet when the shooting broke out, wrote that her parents settled in Parkland because the school had a “stellar reputation and because we thought that it was a safe place to live.”
She called on people to “work together beyond political parties to make sure this never happens again.”
She argued sensibly: “If a person is not old enough to be able to rent a car or buy a beer, then he should not be able to legally purchase a weapon of mass destruction. This could have been prevented. If the killer had been properly treated for his mental illness, maybe this would not have happened. If there were proper background checks, then those who should not have guns would not have them.”
A recent study using data from the World Health Organization and the global Human Mortality Database, found that America is now “the most dangerous of wealthy nations for a child to be born into.” Higher infant mortality — high particularly among the poor in states that refused to expand Medicaid — accounts for some of that. Gun violence accounts for much of it. The U.S. suffers 21,000 “excess deaths” — deaths above the average — for children under 19 every year.
As one writer noted, think of that as three Sandy Hook or three Stoneman Douglas shootings a day, every day of every year. We have failed our children.
President Donald Trump responded to the latest school shooting with “prayers and condolences,” never mentioning the word gun. After he was elected, he went to the National Rifle Association convention. The NRA had spent millions in support of his election. “You came through for me,” he pledged, “I will come through for you.”
There is no more brazen statement of the corruption of our politics. Since 1968, America has lost more lives to gun violence than we have in all the wars of our nation’s history from the Revolutionary War forward. Our leaders are failing in their duty to protect our children.
The NRA and the gun lobby reward politicians who block sensible reforms, and punish those who promote them. A majority of Americans support sensible gun laws. Yet no progress is made. Politicians fear that they will risk their seats if they oppose the gun lobby. They choose their own political career over the duty to protect our children.
After each mass shooting, there is outrage and tears, but no action. Perhaps the young organizers from Parkland can break through. They can reach millions of their peers through social media. Their passion is clear. It is not partisan, not liberal or conservative, but moral.
At 18, they can register and vote in large numbers. Even now, they can organize marches and demonstrations, do research that exposes who is on the take and who is in the pocket of the gun lobby, run registration and voter education drives.
Our leaders have failed our children. Our parties won’t do the hard work needed. The news media will soon turn to new outrages and new stories.
Our children are at risk. Now they are calling all of us to account. Maybe they have the grit and the moral clarity to break through the icy indifference of those who claim to lead us.
Christine Yared wrote: “We need to expose the truth about gun violence and the corruption around guns. Please. If you have any heart, or care about anyone or anything, you need to be an advocate for change. Don’t let any more children suffer like we have. Don’t continue this cycle. This may not seem relevant to you. But next time it could be your family, your friends, your neighbors. Next time, it could be you.”
She and her classmates have witnessed the unbearable. Let us heed their call.