Students lead a vast protest against gun violence

ON MARCH 24th, less than 40 days after a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, hundreds of thousands gathered near Capitol Hill in Washington, DC to protest against America’s lax gun laws and implore Congress and President Donald Trump to fix them. The vast crowd—which included toddlers perched upon shoulders, students, teachers and parents—thronged down Pennsylvania Avenue, block after block. Many carried signs denigrating the National Rifle Association (NRA) and chanted a modern version of an old protest slogan: “Hey, hey, NRA, how many kids did you kill today?” 

Thanks to the impressive efforts of the eloquent survivors of the Parkland shooting, the media have not yet moved on from the tragedy. Parallel marches took place in 800 locations across the world. Whether the students’ new movement will bring serious policy change remains unclear. The Parkland survivors have banded together under the banner of #NeverAgain. Yet it has already happened again. On March 20th, a 17-year-old pupil, armed with a semi-automatic handgun taken from his father, fatally shot a classmate in Great Mills High School in Maryland.

Mass shooting horrors have repeatedly failed to move American lawmakers. There was a reminder of this in the presence, at the March for Our Lives on March 24th, of various delegations from past mass shootings. There were groups from Virginia Tech, where 32 people were massacred more than a decade ago; from Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School; from Orlando, where 49 were killed in a nightclub; and from Las Vegas, where 58 were shot dead while attending an open-air concert. But despite the seemingly long odds of meaningful reform, most attendees seemed hopeful that this time would be different. There have been small signs of progress. Rick Scott, Florida’s Republican governor, has already signed a bill into law which would raise the minimum age to buy a gun to 21 and institute a three-day waiting period. It would also, controversially, provide funds to arm teachers. (“Our daughter is a teacher, not Annie Oakley,” read one sign at the Washington rally.)

The NRA is not backing down. In late February, Wayne LaPierre, its boss, gave a frenzied speech warning of “these new European-style socialists bearing down upon us”. The group has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Florida law. And while it seemed that Mr Trump would at first break with his party and try to push federal gun-control laws, his zeal faded fast after rebukes from Republican congressmen and a talking-to from the NRA in the Oval Office.

“This should have ended after Columbine,” said Jordan Phelps, a local high-schooler, as she marched in Washington, DC. “But our generation is going to start cramming the ballot boxes and voting them out.” That appeared to be the solution that the organisers had decided upon: everywhere, there were volunteers holding out voter registration cards. Speakers repeatedly exhorted the crowd to vote in the upcoming mid-term elections. Cameron Kasky, one of the teenage survivors of the Parkland shooting, was one of them. “To the leaders, sceptics and cynics who told us to sit down, stay silent and wait your turn: Welcome to the revolution” he said. “Either represent the people or get out. Stand for us or beware. The voters are coming.”

“I think something will finally change,” said a high-school English teacher from Ohio who is planning a walkout on April 20th—the 19th anniversary of the mass shooting at Columbine High School. There have been 193 school shootings since then, according to a comprehensive tally by the Washington Post, which have killed 130 people and injured 254. More than 187,000 students have been in a school where a shooting took place.

Students who survived school shootings—from Parkland, Florida, and Newtown, Connecticut—spoke alongside those from places where gun violence was part of everyday life—from Chicago’s South Side to south Los Angeles. Naomi Wadler, an 11-year-old girl from Alexandria, Virginia, spoke powerfully for “the African-American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential”. But perhaps the most emotional moment came when Emma Gonzalez began listing the things her dead classmates from Stoneman Douglas would never do again. Then she stopped, and stood silently for several minutes, staring ahead, with tears streaming down her face. A timer sounded after six minutes—the exact time it had taken for the gunman, armed with a semi-automatic rifle, to end 17 lives. 

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