On March 24th of 2018 (over a week ago as I finish this post), I rode down in a bus to the Capitol with several other students to take part in the March for Our Lives.
It was just last February that the Stoneman Douglas shooting in Parkland, Florida occurred, just one of many shootings to occur since the Massacre at Columbine shocked the nation. Every time we have had gun violence hit the media–be it at a school, a theater, or a church–there was strong request for change, for regulations on who can and who can’t use guns. The people in power have offered there sympathies to the bereaved, but time and time again have been either unable or unwilling to bring about strong reform.
After Columbine, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Vegas, and several other such tragedies, Parkland was basically the last straw; the Stoneman Douglas students got mobilized.
The crowd that day contained hundreds of thousands of people, loudly chanting for change and reparation. While otherwise a chilly day, the collective heat of the crowds was enough to make the air shimmer. Every now and again as we stood, some individuals would start a chant and it would rip like a tsunami right across the bulk of the gathered masses.
Between performances by various celebrities, survivors and advocates came up onstage and decried the violence they had been forced to endure, the NRA for stonewalling gun-control efforts, and the politicians who have allowed the violence to go on for this long.
Many relevant things were said during the main rally, most of which I can only barely recall through the haze of strong emotion (as well as due to getting a sunburn; it was very bright that day).
Stoneman Douglas survivors such as Emma Gonzales and David Hoggs gave us heartfelt and charged speeches regarding the trauma of surviving an event no student should ever have to endure, while emphasizing the need for change and the importance of our making ourselves heard. Gonzales’s speech in particular was powerful for the short silent break in it, roughly the same length of time as the six minutes in which the Parkland shooter killed its victims.
A portion of the crowd (either out of cluelessness or discomfort) attempted to fill the silence with chants. It was kind of disrespectful; I hope they weren’t too loud on the news coverage.
Naomi Wadler, a young african-american girl from Virginia, also spoke to remind us of the continued violence in minority communities that children like her have to endure, as did guest speakers Edna Chavez from Los Angeles and Trevon Bosley of Chicago, cities where people of color in poorer communities have come to live with everyday urban gun violence out on the street, where such violence has been a fact of life for a long while. Both Chavez and Bosley lost siblings to violence, and have seen it out and around in their neighborhood. Minority and impoverished communities are swarming in death and violence that goes unreported by the media, and I am glad to see that this rally included them as well.
My personal highlight for the event was when Yolanda King, the young granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr., came up on the stage and said her peace. As her assassinated grandfather dreamed of freedom from inequality, so she too stated she dreams that we would no more experience tragedy administered by random acts of gun violence.
There was plenty more that was said, plenty more that was expressed. The survivors of other shootings and urban violence came up and expressed support and commitment, there were tells and shouts and much expression, and so much hope that we could finally get something of substance to be accomplished.
There are those who oppose the advocation for gun legislature, the members of the NRA being the most influential (and the ones who got the loudest boos).
Despite what the button on my lapel might have said, I do not consider myself literal “anti-gun”. As someone who hunts game in the fall, I don’t personally have a problem with owning and knowing how to properly use a firearm. However, I do not see any reason why we should not regulate the sale and ownership of guns, especially the almost military-grade “sports” rifle such as the AR-15 often favored by public shooters.
Seriously, why do civilians need automatic or semiautomatic weaponry (which can be modified to be fully automatic)? They are practically the same thing that active duty soldiers use, and they are required to be fully trained and disciplined before they can use those types of gun in combat. An automatic weapon is not typically designed to be a toy nor a hunting rifle; it is designed to kill or maim as many PEOPLE as possible. And anyone can buy one in more states than not without any sort of background check or mental health evaluation. I mean, if the person holding the weapon is the problem rather than the weapon itself, then should we not be okay with refusing to let the problem has access to weapons?
While the AR15 is not an assault rifle ( is referred to as a modern sports rifle by various entities in the business), it is legally an assault weapon and is a favorite choice for mass shootings.
An 18 year old kid can’t drink beer, and they need to pass a crap ton of tests and practice before they can have a license, yet they are perfectly able to walk into a store or to the back of a white van and pick up an assault weapon for just the right amount of CASH.
For the love of God, we have limits on the First Amendment to prevent the use of free speech to harm (e.g. a person can be arrested if they shout “Fire!” into a crowded room for the sole purpose of causing panic), why not modify the Second Amendment to better work in the modern age? Sure, it won’t stop kids and crooks from being able to get guns illegally, but it will make it harder for disturbed individuals to access weapons in general (plus, any sort of background evaluation ought to raise red flags that would draw attention upon any suspicious character).
People talk about arming school teachers to better defend their students, and some schools have started perform lockdown drills with officers shooting blank rifles due to new safety regulations. There is nothing here about preventing the likelihood of a shooting occurring, just arming stressed-out and untrained civilians while teaching children that death and violence are things to which they should become accustomed.
Call me crazy, but I think a school should be a safe zone where we concentrate on learning and growing without wondering which of our classmates may one day decide to murder us (or which one of our students we might have to execute in the future).
The majority of Generation Z is has reached or is reaching voting age, and come this November those who have registered will have the power to vote out those who oppose change, whose indecision would allow the continued existence of policies and practices that allow such tragedies to continue.
On a related note, let us return to the topic of minority communities. To the day, black and hispanic people in this nation still often get the short end of the stick. Their schools are underfunded, their families often can’t make ends meet, and the people in charge are often either indifferent or hostile. The minority communities experience the largest amount of gun violence in the United States, yet they also receive the least amount of news coverage and reaction compared to predominately well-to-do white communities.
The #BlackLivesMatter movement started in 2014 in response in part to Michael Brown’s death (shot a total of 12 times by an allegedly threatened Officer Darren Wilson, who was later cleared of charges), and has been continuing steadily. It has not been receiving the same amount of recognition and support as the #NeverAgain movement started by Emma Gonzales and the Parkland survivors. In fact, it has been classified as an extremist organization by the FBI (very same agency that was AT LEAST indirectly complicit to the assassination of Martin Luther King jr.) simply because they are protesting (peacefully, I might add) and unfair justice system. Apparently the FBI has pinned unrelated violent protests by individual black individuals as something everyone connected to the movement would sanction or commit. In the mean time, people of color still continue to leave in general poor, stressful, and unsafe conditions.
Because the Parkland shooting involved a rather well-to-do, predominantly white community, there was a lot more public outrage concerning the event. As a result, it was school shootings that got most of the coverage in debate over gun safety.
Incidentally, the Parkland Shooter (a 17 year old who definitely knew what he was doing) was often talked about as being a troubled child and bullying victim (the guy had a history of rage and brutality, and there were people at the school who tried to befriend him in spite of it) who is being kept safe in protective custody, whereas black boys get shot, beaten, and killed by dumbass officers who immediately assume they’re “threatening” them.
As I believe Edna Chavez described in her speech, the officers aren’t any help to the community because they are likely to profile and arrest the children of color rather than protect and aid them. I don’t care that not all officers are like that, it’s still a problem that there are at least a small crowd of them THAT ARE.
I live in a rural community, so this has always been a distant problem to me. None the less, I recognize the urban violence that occurs among the less well off and marginalized demographics is just as relevant a problem to the American people as the growing tendency we have towards experiencing school shootings. Circumstances like these should not be normal for anyone, people should not have to experience the trauma of live-or-death situations in their everyday lives, let alone live in neighborhoods that are practically war zones.
In the poor urban communities, people have no aid, no money, no jobs, and they often turn to crime and violence out of desperation and fear. They don’t use assault weapons (except for the bigger gangs) but the common pistol can just as easily kill you as any other projectile weapon. Here, the problem is definitely lack of care for those of us leaving poverty. When things happen to people of color in poverty (or really poor people in general), it tends to be seen as not a concern of the nation as a whole but just of that specific demographic.
There is a lot more about marginalized poor communities besides urban violence of which I am opinionated or infuriated, especially my inability to do shit about it, but that can be saved for later actions.
Anyway, the movement started by the Parkland crowd have an agenda I support and think others ought to as well, and people such as #BlackLivesMatter and other advocates for improving life in marginalized communities need the support too. I think it is important that those who can change things actually goddamn improve things. Granted, I can’t know everything about anything, and there will always be stuff of which I am incorrect, but I am damn well sure that a safer, kinder America is one I want to live in.
In the mean time, I need to get back to sorting out my thesis project (and probably go to bed at some point, it’s already past midnight where I am). Goodnight.