The kids are all right
I remember the Columbine school shooting very clearly, the media coverage of it, that is.
Perhaps that’s because, in the spring of 1999, I was a 16-year-old high school student, the same age as some of those killed in the massacre.
More likely, though, it’s because at that time, school shootings in the U.S. were not the commonality they are now.
Today, mass shootings are a regular occurrence in America. Alarmingly frequent. Depending on how one defines a mass shooting, at least one takes place every week, usually more, and a major mass shooting, with casualty numbers in the double digits, happens every other month or so.
They happen in shopping malls and movie theatres and concert venues. They happen in churches. In schools.
To outside observers, to the rest of the world, the reason for and solution to the U.S. gun problem is abundantly clear. America has lax gun laws. Easy access to high-powered rifles means more mass shootings. There is absolutely no reason citizens should be able to purchase semi-automatic weapons designed for military warfare. Legislative change is the only antidote.
Inside the U.S., though, things are more complicated. America’s gun culture is an ideological disease. Powerful lobby groups, most notably the National Rifle Association, have successfully transformed the constitution’s second amendment – the right to bear arms, historical residue from the country’s break with the British empire – into something much more. In a mind-boggling perversion of logic, to some, the ability to buy an AR-15 is a God-given right, one that equates to freedom. Therefore, any attempt to strengthen gun laws is an attempt to take away that freedom. The NRA has been very successful in preaching this gospel. Gun-liness is next to Godliness.
Armed with an endless supply of cash from gun manufacturers, the NRA contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to political campaigns, thereby buying the loyalty of politicians. It’s an open secret that the NRA essentially owns Congress, or at least carries enough political clout that it’s able to essentially veto any gun control bills that responsible legislators dare to table.
When a mass shooting occurs, politicians bemoan the tragedy as if it was some naturally occurring event, send thoughts and prayers to the victims’ families, say that it’s not the appropriate time to change laws, and then go silent until the next mass shooting happens.
For a long time, there seemed to be no hope that the county’s gun culture would ever change. After all, if 20 dead toddlers in the Sandy Hook shooting were not enough to thaw the hearts of legislators, what possibly could be?
After the most recent mass shooting, though, the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. on Valentine’s Day, something is different. Students there are launching protests that have spread across the country. They are calling out the NRA, and politicians who accept its support, by name. They are using their social media savvy, and the fact they’ve spent most of their lives with smartphones and cameras in their faces, to their advantage. Student Emma Gonzalez, perhaps the ringleader of the movement, now has more than a million Twitter followers. A protest planned for March 24 has received millions of dollars from celebrity backers such as Oprah Winfrey and George Clooney. Young people are registering to vote in the 2018 mid-term elections in droves.
Something big is happening in America, something that looks like it could be at least the beginning of responsible gun legislation, and the beginning of the end of widespread mass shootings.