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Florida students speak out and step into an ongoing journey for action

Praise for the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., who are turning their anger and grief into action. They rode 400 miles in three buses to Tallahassee to ask state legislators to turn around attitudes on guns and ban AR-15 assault weapons like the one that killed 17 classmates and teachers on Feb. 14.

The pro-gun legislators turned them down, but there will be school walkouts, marches and meetings to turn around the thinking that keeps taking lives of children beginning their lives. After shootings in the past, the lines to dismiss such action is that “it’s too soon” or “don’t politicize it.”

Students bring new energy to join parents and survivors of 208 school shootings, including Sandy Hook Elementary School at Newtown, Conn., in 2012, and Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.

How long will media aid momentum to ban assault-style weapons and adopt other measures to prevent such carnage in halls of learning, malls, churches, streets and homes? What are vested interests and news practices that may mean they will go on to the next shocking news story after saturation with this story?  Where are reports on Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas hurricane recovery efforts?

Where will people gain strength to continue for the long haul, as was required to end slavery, win suffrage for women or achieve civil rights—and there are still efforts to backtrack on those issues.

A friend on Facebook noted that there weren’t such school shootings 20 years ago.  His point was it must be something other than the guns—media violence, angry males, mental illness—but overlooked that 20 years ago an assault weapons ban was in place—1994 until it expired in 2003.

How much media attention was needed to keep pressure alive on the  health impact of smoking, on the need for civil rights and equality, on the carnage and senselessness of the Vietnam War? What is the tilting point that drives escalation of momentum to the point of change?

Perhaps those supporting assault weapons need to prove those guns are not intended to kill.  For example, why are some targets human-shaped? 

The momentum to control guns would be slashed by self-control so there are no more school shootings, no more need for shooting drills that terrorize kids, no more sales to underage kids or people with criminal backgrounds or mental health struggles.

The momentum can be slashed by cutting down ever-mounting levels of media violence for entertainment in movies, games and online.  Will we limit putting ideas of violence in people’s minds?

The right to free speech is limited. We can’t yell, “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Driving cars is limited by licenses, registration and tests.  What are similar logical limits to second amendment “gun rights”?

Will advocates of an assault weapon ban accept less just to “win something”?

Media are covering many proposals: ban bump stocks, ban assault weapons, arm teachers, repeal the second Amendment, use metal detectors, background checks, age limits, mental health criteria, ban all guns in schools, don’t name shooters, uplift heroes, focus on victims’ trauma, value the right to life over gun “rights,” students say “never again,” gun buy-outs, vote out those accepting NRA campaign funds, join school walkouts, let the Center for Disease Control research gun violence as a public health issue, sign Gabby Gifford’s pledge to flip Congress, and more.

Action may take a long time. Momentum to abolish the death penalty in Washington is building. A bill has passed the Senate and was in the House. Oregon had a death penalty in 1864.  It was abolished in 1914 and reinstated in 1920, both by popular vote. My mother worked to abolish it in 1964, and it was reinstated in 1978, both by popular vote. Oregon’s Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1981. Voters reinstated it in 1984.  The governor declared a moratorium on executions in 2011.

That’s just to say that after a “win” on a policy, momentum and education must continue. We see that as necessary with efforts now to undo civil rights and allow hate speech. Momentum is needed for the long haul, even forever, to educate new generations.  We can never assume something is won forever because there are often built-in sunsets for some laws to expire.

What’s needed are: perseverance, persistence, prevention, education, dialogue, ongoing momentum and readiness to keep on keeping on.

Elements include tracking and making unpopular/shameful legislators’ support from the NRA, and lawsuits from families of those killed‚ as was needed to loose the grip of big tobacco companies.

We need to “keep on,” as Harriet Tubman did in bringing groups of people from slavery to freedom.  We know much more was needed after freed slaves were brought the North.  There was need to end oppression, racism, which still limits opportunities and equality for people of color.

The truth is, the Parkridge students are joining, not starting a movement.  Parents and survivors of previous shootings welcome the new energy in the long march. There are plans for school walkouts or marches March 14 and 24, and April 20.

We do need “thoughts and prayers,” not just to comfort the grief or silence the anger of the survivors, but also to sustain the momentum for people to act, educate and end the trail of senseless violence. 

We need the kind of “thoughts and prayers” that build solidarity and overcome divisions that are played up to stymie common, effective advocacy. 

We need “thoughts and prayers” for ending hate, gun violence and fear that silences citizens and quashes elected officials who seek to adopt sensible solutions.

It’s a long walk that we must continue.

Mary Stamp - Editor

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