Editorial Board: Students flip the script on gun dialogue

Last Wednesday, tragedy — and devastatingly redundant tragedy, at that — struck Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Seventeen people, many of whom were students as young as 14 years old, were shot dead, and 14 were sent to the hospital after a gunman walked on campus with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

Art by Di Wu | Daily Trojan

One of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history, Parkland follows a string of similar gun-related tragedies that rocked our nation and sparked contentious dialogue about how to move forward. Similar to Parkland, there was the Sandy Hook shooting that killed 27, mostly young students at a Connecticut elementary school in 2012. In 2016, there was the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando that killed 49. At the end of last year, a mass shooting in Las Vegas killed 59, and was followed within weeks by a shooting at a Texas church that killed 26.

Each incident was uniquely devastating, and in each case, too soon were we forced to collectively move on to mourn the next. But Parkland feels different — Parkland is different. Not because it is somehow more tragic than its predecessors, but because of the student-led, survivor-led movement it has sparked, and the passion and promise of this movement, which could yield the changes requisite to finally put an end to this epidemic.

As the Daily Trojan’s Editorial Board wrote last fall in the wake of the aforementioned Las Vegas shooting, gun violence has in many ways become a millennial issue. Of course, with the exception of the disproportionate effects of gun violence on female domestic abuse victims and people of color afflicted by police brutality, mass shootings can be indiscriminate in whom they target. But as students today, in our lifetimes we have witnessed and experienced increased mass shootings and widened accessibility to weapons that can kill hundreds in minutes. And we have gone through these tragedies, all while often watching and feeling helpless as none sparked necessary change, and each episode devastatingly seemed to pave the way for the next.

But the student survivors of the Parkland shooting have wholly flipped the script on this, in a way that affects all Americans and, in particular, American students. Young people may be known for low voter turnout rates and stereotyped as apathetic; it would be easy to assume repeated, senseless violence and repeated inaction from those with all the decision-making power would sow only further disillusionment.

But in the past week, Stoneman Douglas High School students David Hogg, Cameron Kasky and Emma Gonzalez, among others, each weathering heartless internet bullying and right-wing conspiracy theories without flinching, have become household names. They have led large-scale social media campaigns and are coordinating national marches for gun control that are predicted to attract hundreds of thousands. They have challenged our nation’s most prominent lawmakers — such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican receiving millions in funding from the National Rifle Association — on national television. They have not only won the backing of and drew celebrity donors to speak up for gun control, but also engaged thousands — maybe millions — of students and young people across the country.

Since the Parkland shooting, lawmakers across the country — many of whom receive donations in the thousands and millions from the NRA — have simply refused to talk about not only gun control but also guns in general. On Tuesday, Florida legislators voted down a bill that would have banned semi-automatic guns — the weapon that killed 17 in Parkland. President Donald Trump has yet to even publicly address guns, except to float the objectively dangerous idea of arming teachers.

We hear the same, often widely discredited or disproven talking points every time: that gun control laws are impossible to enforce; that arming more, “good” civilians is a more effective solution; that mass shootings are not a gun but a mental health issue. Through all the years mass shootings have been happening and all the years the NRA has dominated politics, we have always been expected to passively accept these answers and wait idly for the next tragedy to ensue. At this very University last semester, a false alarm that a gunman was on campus yielded only a brief pause in campus life before students and faculty were expected to resume as if nothing abnormal had happened.

We have been conditioned to accept gun violence as a tragic but inevitable commodity, and if anyone was expected to passively fall in line with this narrative, it was young people, students, teenagers. But instead, it’s young people showing up for rallies, sharing information on social, registering and turning out to vote, and calling representatives as part of a tightly coordinated national effort. Student activists across the country are the ones paving the way forward, and they are the ones — not actionless legislators — whose examples we must follow.

Daily Trojan spring 2018 Editorial Board