Are we still talking about Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School? I mean that — honestly. Are you? Whether miraculous or disappointing, the Parkland, Fla., shooting, in which a gunman opened fire on students at Stoneman Douglas leaving 17 dead, seemed to stick with us for about a month and a half. In a 24-hour news cycle, in an age in which mass atrocities seem to dominate the headlines one instant only to be discarded the very next, this longer period of attention was unprecedented. My God, I thought. This time, will people care?
The fact that this particular shooting brought a genuine gun control discussion into the mainstream conversation is pretty miraculous, and has much to do with the willingness of those several survivors — Emma González and David Hogg, especially — to continue speaking. They’ve drawn the ire and the fire of different Republican representatives and pundits — one among them, former Republican candidate for Maine State House Leslie Gibson, who called González a “skinhead lesbian.” Gibson’s often outlandish comments have only helped to further student activists’ shelf-lives in the media. The lesson, it seems, is clear: Don’t stop. On Thursday night, a rally was held here at USC for the March for Our Lives movement, featuring an alliance of student organizations committed to disallowing the disappearance of the issue at our own university. The nationwide movement to force Congress to hold a genuine gun debate, and pass the legislation that a vast, vast majority of Americans have consistently supported — common-sense gun reform, including nationwide registration, background checks and the elimination of gun show loopholes and bump stocks — begins on every grassroots level and belongs on every college campus.
At a political conference last month, I attended a networking dinner and ended up sitting next to a California Republican Party official. She seemed sympathetic to our fear for the danger that still exists, the concern we had for our country, and for our lives. So, I told her, hoping she could tell her colleagues, that every time I sit down in a lecture hall it occurs to me to sit in a strategic location. Every time the door opens, I watch to see who enters. Making the decision to live, learn and work on a college campus has become a risk-laden enterprise; I don’t trust that I am truly safe here. I can only hope that, as anyone could, no one will happen to decide to kill us all. After all, as long as our representatives continue to abdicate their responsibility to protect us, who will stop them?
But they can’t listen if we aren’t speaking. We can iterate and reiterate the extent to which gun control, and those same common-sense reforms, have been presented and supported and championed and proposed and reproposed; their death always occurs in silence. Our government, theoretically, is supposed to function based on the pressure of voters affecting the votes of their representatives. No pressure, no effect — no vote.
Thursday’s rally was deeply moving, but it occurred in a nearly empty room. The amount of open seats, if anything, evinced more than the unfortunate nature of the weather or the apathy of a Thursday night — it was a clear-cut demonstration of our campus-wide unwillingness to do anything more than philosophize from the comfort of the Facebook wall, or experience fear and uncertainty without mustering the self-respect and moxy to do anything about it. This is not a march for an -ism that may or may not affect you; it is not a movement in the abstract, and there may not be another chance to achieve this level of attention. We aren’t close at all to a solution; and yet, pitifully, this small amount of acknowledgement feels so bold, so near, so monumental. Your choice to attend class could end your life. That seems to be a fact of the American landscape, and one our representatives — congressional Republicans especially — are all too willing to accept.
In that near-empty room, several voices were heard by the few who were there. A husband who lost his wife; a woman who lost a next-door neighbor; the older brother of a Parkland survivor, who will forever remember the painstaking time he spent waiting to learn that his brother had, eventually, been evacuated. You must be willing to show up, in-person, rally, in-person, and call your representatives yourselves. You must be willing to hear survivors’ voices, to know survivors’ stories, to learn about the proposals and the legislation and the long road ahead. You must agree to embark upon it with the rest of us, who wish not to be shot in school.
Common-sense gun control is an immediate necessity of American life. Until we have it, the public is not safe, and the people are not free. Your constitutional right to life is being sidelined by representatives who value National Rifle Association dollars higher than American lives. Those who would oppose reform are recklessly regressive; those who would ignore it are just as culpable. This is our modern American reality.
The March for Life is on Saturday — I hope to see you there.
Lily Vaughan is a junior majoring in history and political science. Her column,“Playing Politics,” runs Fridays.