Editorial: Youth confront the NRA

From the March-April 2018 issue of News & Letters

The youth who marched on Tallahassee, Fla., and Washington, D.C., in response to the massacre of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 in Parkland, Fla., lead the entire nation in demanding an end to gun violence. They have moved far beyond thoughts and prayers and grief counselors by turning fear, sadness and anger into collective action.

A teacher survivor said, “Our children, this young man and all his schoolmates, will change this.”

Students protest gun violence at the White House, Feb. 19, 2018. Photo: Lorie Shaull, commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66648619

In the midst of her tears, Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Stoneman Douglas, gave a mind-blowing speech where she said in part:

[If] all our government can do is say it’s time for thoughts and prayers, then we need to be here to be the change…[W]e have learned if you do nothing, people will end up dead…[W]e are going to be the kids that you read about in textbooks, not because we are going to be another statistic of another mass shooting in America, because we are going to be the last mass shooting…They say tougher gun laws don’t decrease gun violence, we call BS! They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun, we call BS! They say guns are just tools like knives, and are as dangerous as cars, we call BS! They say that we’re too young to understand, we call BS!

The election of Donald Trump as President jolted masses of young people to action. Young women and men joined Women’s Marches by the hundreds of thousands the day after he was inaugurated, youth spurred emergency protests at airports and on college campuses opposing Trump’s ban on entry from areas that this year he called “shithole countries,” and youth joined encampments in support of the Standing Rock Lakota Nation demanding the Keystone Pipeline stay off their land and out of their water.

The Stoneman Douglas students take their place alongside these youth, challenging the Trump regime and a Congress that hates democracy. Trump and the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre and Dana Loesch tried to counter the voices of the students by defending sales of AR-15s, even to kids who cannot legally buy a beer, and called for pouring even more guns into schools by arming teachers. It is a predictable position for the NRA, the gun makers’ lobby, but equally predictable that the results would be catastrophic.

RACIST NRA PROPS UP ALT-RIGHT

We already have proof. The SWAT team that entered Stoneman Douglas first racially profiled an unarmed Latino student and pointed their guns at him. Philando Castile, a St. Paul, Minn., school cafeteria manager licensed to carry a concealed weapon, was killed in his car in 2016 by a cop claiming he feared for his life.

Tellingly, the NRA that routinely defends gun owners’ rights did not lift a finger for Castile, killed because he was driving while Black. There is no doubt that the NRA has become a linchpin of white supremacist organizations, from Breitbart and CPAC to the Ku Klux Klan. By attacking the NRA, students are also taking on the white supremacists defending Trump, including the Russians who funneled $30 million through the NRA into the Trump campaign and whose bots then spread internet hoaxes that Stoneman Douglas students were really “crisis actors.”

The NRA in turn has called its opponents “socialist” and demonized Black Lives Matter, who are combating decades of blatantly racist police killings of young Black men, women and children.

The students are shining a spotlight on the racist origins of the Second Amendment, which permitted the Southern states the “well-regulated militia” they could call up against escaped slaves and slave rebellions.

The students have called for banning assault weapons, raising the minimum age to legally purchase a gun, regulating ammunition sales and stricter background checks. They question the national gun culture and want people to register to vote so as to throw pro-NRA legislators out of office. After the murders of 22 first grade children and six teachers in Newtown, Conn., five years ago, not a single gun control reform was enacted even though more than 80% of U.S. citizens demand them.

The movement the students began has already had an effect. More than 20 major corporations, like Delta Airlines and several car rental agencies, have cut financial ties to the NRA, ties most of us did not even know existed but that helped fill NRA coffers. They have pushed Trump to tell different lies: the man who signed an NRA-backed bill to allow gun sales to people judged disabled by mental illness now says he and the NRA will work out something on guns and mental illness. Trump and the NRA will not easily give ground. Wide discussion, deep creative thinking, and strong alliances among all fighting for a human society will be needed.

Against a torrent of slanders, youth have made clear once again that they are a force of revolution, and they will be heard.

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