The school shootings won’t stop. Hundreds of students will die in the coming decades at the hands of men who have easy access to guns and who have grown up in an age where violence is glorified in American culture.
That’s the cynical view held by older generations who have seen policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels become wholly owned subsidiaries of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
But many of the young people who survived this week’s massacre of 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, still believe they can play a role in stopping what most Americans now view as inevitable.
“We can’t ignore the issues of gun control that this tragedy raises. And so, I’m asking — no, demanding — we take action now,” Cameron Kasky, a 17-year-old student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where this week’s massacre happened, wrote in an op-ed published Friday on CNN.com. “Why? Because at the end of the day, the students at my school felt one shared experience — our politicians abandoned us by failing to keep guns out of schools.”
After waiting in fear for hours, Kasky and his brother Holden were able to escape the school grounds, surviving one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history. Two days later, Kasky was able to overcome the trauma of the massacre and issue a call to action for his fellow students to rise up against the pro-gun politicians.
After each of these school massacres — Parkland was the 18th shooting at a U.S. school in 2018 — the voices heard are typically the police, the parents, and the politicians. But students took the lead after the Parkland tragedy.
“This time, my classmates and I are going to hold them to account,” Kasky emphasized, referring to do-nothing politicians. “This time we are going to pressure them to take action. This time we are going to force them to spend more energy protecting human lives than unborn fetuses.”
Many of Kasky’s classmates share his sentiment. Along with writing articles like Kasky’s, students have stood in front of cameras and taken to social media to explain how they feel about what happened to them. They aren’t giving up, even though the gun lobby has grown more powerful in the nearly two decades since the Columbine massacre where two young men killed 13 people at a high school in Colorado.
A 16-year-old named Sarah, who identified herself as a student, tweeted in response to President Donald Trump’s statement sending condolences to the Parkland victims’ families. “Do something instead of sending prayers. Prayers won’t fix this. But Gun control will prevent it from happening again,” she demanded.
Some observers have attributed the students’ ability to communicate so effectively after such a traumatic event as a product of the all-digital world of social media in which they grew up.
“Communicating immediately and effectively is second nature. Even in their pain and fear — no, especially in their pain and fear — they knew what to do,” Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote in a piece published Saturday.
The Parkland students aren’t naive. Many understand the NRA is a super-lobbying force that will take years to weaken. And they know politicians paid off by the NRA and other gun lobbying groups will put up obstacles to ending gun violence in their schools. The students hear politicians talk about the sorrow they feel for the families of the victims. But then they see these same legislators go back to their offices and do nothing to prevent the ownership of guns that can kill and injure dozens of people within a matter of minutes.
In his op-ed, Kasky singled out Sen. Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida who is one of the top recipients of money from the NRA and who refuses to take responsibility for the role gun culture played in the massacre. According to Kasky, though, Republicans like Rubio aren’t the only ones to blame for the American public’s easy access to an AR-15 semi-automatic rifles or similar military-style weapons.
“The truth is that the politicians on both sides of the aisle are to blame. The Republicans, generally speaking, take large donations from the NRA and are therefore beholden to their cruel agenda. And the Democrats lack the organization and the votes to do anything about it,” explained Kasky.
The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School concede they don’t have all of the answers. “However, even in my position, I can see that there is desperate need for change — change that starts by folks showing up to the polls and voting all those individuals who are in the back pockets of gun lobbyists out of office,” Kasky wrote.
Because Kasky won’t be able to vote in the elections this fall, he asked opponents of mass shootings to go the polls on behalf of him and his fellow classmates. “We can’t vote, but you can, so make it count,” he wrote.