March for Our Lives: A tipping point?
On a crisp and beautiful spring day last week, “we witnessed a new dawn in the struggle against gun violence,” said E.J. Dionne Jr. in WashingtonPost.com. Led by the young survivor-activists of the Parkland, Fla., massacre, some 800,000 students and parents gathered in Washington, D.C., and hundred of thousands more at 844 sister events nationwide for the “March for Our Lives,” in protest against school shootings. Huge crowds chanted their way through New York, Houston, Los Angeles, and other cities, holding signs reading “Hunting season is over” and “I want to read books, not obituaries” and demanding reasonable gun-control measures—including universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Usually, the public outrage after a shooting fizzles out and gives way to sad resignation, said Amanda Petrusich in The New Yorker. This time, “something feels profoundly different.” As fearless young speakers railed against the National Rifle Association, “the energy on the street was crackling.” Then Parkland student Emma Gonzalez led a dramatic, unforgettable silence lasting six minutes and 20 seconds—the time it took her former Marjory Stoneman Douglas classmate to gun down 17 students and teachers. In the long political struggle against the NRA and its cult of gun rights absolutism, could this finally be “a tipping point?”
No one can deny the Parkland students “their grief,” said Rich Lowry in NationalReview.com. But while putting on outrage-filled marches feels cathartic, “passion is not wisdom.” Egged on by liberal adults, these students demonize every gun owner and politician who disagrees with them as not merely wrong, but as “the equivalent of murderers.” The NRA and its supporters, said rally organizer David Hogg, “want to keep killing our children.” Missing from their fear-driven diatribes was one basic, “indisputable fact,” said Robby Soave in Reason.com: “Gun violence has declined precipitously over the past 25 years,” despite the fact that the number of guns in circulation has doubled. Schools are no exception, with four times as many children shot dead in schools in the early 1990s than today, according to one study.
Why, then, did so many teens and parents fill the streets all over the country? asked German Lopez in Vox.com. After the massacres in Newtown, Parkland, Las Vegas, and so many other places, Americans are heartsick and fed up, and “gun control is incredibly popular.” Some 91 percent of voters polled by Fox News favor universal background checks, and 60 percent support an assault-weapons ban. Congress has failed to act mainly because the NRA has historically had the edge on “issue intensity.” For years, gun rights supporters have been far more likely to make guns their top ballot-box priority—the NRA having successfully framed any form of gun control as “a tangible loss” of their rights. Now, though, the Parkland students have flipped the script: Don’t children have a right not to be shot? Their heartfelt stories of their friends’ slaughter—as kids hold up signs reading “Am I Next?”—have demonstrated “the human, personal cost of unabated gun violence in a very public manner.” With the midterms approaching, this powerful movement might “actually sway votes.”
Don’t be too sure of that, said Rick Hampson in USAToday.com. On Mother’s Day of 2000, following the Columbine massacre, 750,000 people attended “the Million Mom March.” It was heralded as “the birth of a movement.” Instead, it inspired a fierce backlash by gun owners, contributed to the election of George W. Bush, and was “the start of the NRA’s two-decade domination of gun politics.” If the March for Our Lives goes the same way, said Michael Graham in CBSNews.com, it will be because of smug liberals and their vitriolic attacks against the 4 million NRA members who want “to protect what they see as a constitutional right.” If these law-abiding Americans “get the message that Democrats and the Left are declaring them Public Enemy #1,” it could get the GOP’s base “fired up for the midterms.”
The young gun-control activists have time and demographics on their side, said Arick Wierson in CNBC.com. Generation Z, born between 1995 and 2012, “will be supplying a fresh batch of several million new voters to the electorate every year between now and 2030.” This generation has grown up in an era of mass shootings, and has known “nothing but gridlock in Washington.” And now these young people have had enough. A large majority of Gen Zers are now united in their desire for tangible change—not only on gun control, but also on gay and transgender rights, race, and other social issues. It might take years for the next generation to leverage its growing political power. But make no mistake; we just witnessed “the first chapter in this epic saga.” ■