February 14, Valentine’s Day. The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, arrived at school with anticipation of gestures of love and friendship. Instead at the end of the day, they encountered a barrage of bullets blazing from an AR-15. Students fled from the halls, ducked into classrooms, hiding under desks and in closets. For an interminable 6 minutes and 20 seconds, the lone gunman terrorized the children and their teachers, indiscriminately shooting his innocent victims. Seventeen died; fifteen others were hospitalized.
Valentine’s Day will never be the same. Gone will be the memories of fragrant flowers bought and shared, romantic texts surreptitiously sent, sweet treats from a favorite friend or teacher. Forever will be memories of the incessant bullets’ rat-a-tat-tat-rat-a-tat-tat; the crushing fear and panic; the bloodied dead bodies of their friends and teachers; and for the fifteen survivors, the unfathomable pain of bullets ripping their young flesh.
MSD students’ reaction
The MSD students, fueled by their hurt and outrage, rose from the mayhem and carnage and ascended to being leaders for gun reform. Emma Gonzalez spoke at a rally in Ft. Lauderdale just four days after the massacre and criticized politicians and their B.S. for not doing enough to stop gun violence. Thus, a movement was born.
A short six weeks later, Emma and four other MSD student-activists are on the cover of the April 2 issue of Time magazine. On March 24th, the MSD student group #NeverAgain and the gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety organized and led a successful March for Our Lives rally in Washington DC that spawned supporting rallies all across the nation and world.
I attended that rally. Why? There are several reasons. One is as a retired teacher with thirty years of classroom experience, I had to go support those courageous, brilliant MSD students. They were not only terrorized by the shooter, but they are also being terrorized in the press and in social media. What has been said about them? Judgemental, erroneous remarks include the following:
- The students are too young to have complex thoughts and to articulate them so well.
- They are being manipulated to action by the liberal establishment.
- They are actors, not students.
- They are led by a “skinhead lesbian” and a “baldfaced liar” / “moron.”
- They are not sincere in their efforts; they are looking for excuses to miss school.
- They are trampling on the Second Amendment and want to ban all guns.
- And the newest insult: a video of Emma supposedly tearing up the U.S. Constitution posted on Twitter by Gab, a “free speech social network.”
- And the list goes on.
My reaction to these accusations?
- After teaching Advanced Placement Composition and Literature, which is a course of rhetoric that includes the persuasive argument; and coaching students in forensics, which includes competition in U.S. and Foreign Extemporaneous Speaking and Original Oratory, I know how knowledgeable students are about national and world issues.They do not need adults to tell them what to think and what to say, nor do they need adult actors to pretend to be them.
- The Maine Republication politician running for office who called Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg names received so much criticism for his attack from both Republicans and Democrats that he dropped out of the race. Enough is enough.
- Seeing the students in person, noting the passion in their message and the tears streaming down their cheeks, one cannot doubt their sincerity.
- News outlets quickly jumped to Emma’s defense showing that the video was fake. The original animation, which had been doctored, is from a March 23 Teen Vogue story showing Emma ripping a target poster, not the Constitution.
- Listening to the many students at the rally and studying their positions, I, like all that were there, know the following to be true:
- The students want common sense gun laws, including requiring universal background checks, closing the gun show loopholes, and implementing digitized gun-sale records.
- They want the age for gun ownership raised to 21.
- They want guns to be kept out of the hands of the irresponsible and insane but kept in the hands of the responsible and sane.
- They want the military-style AR-15 banned, not all guns.
- They also want to ban high-capacity magazines.
- They believe that these changes can be put into practice and still support the Second Amendment.
A hopeless feeling emerges.
After I returned home from the March for Our Lives, I was checking news coverage on Facebook. Commentators on one conservative site wrote that the students want all guns banned. I wrote that I was at the rally and no one ever said that. I had one person respond that he “found that hard to believe.” I answered that “I am not a liar.” Another person wrote that I am not a liar, but I am “sadly misinformed.” I was at the rally; they were not. Fruitless exchanges like this make me feel hopeless.
Hope is restored.
Hope returns again when I reflect on the leadership of not only the Parkland students, but also the leadership of students from other cities desecrated by gun violence: Chicago and Newtown. Their overwhelming message is to use the power of the vote to elect politicians who will support the needed reforms and not kowtow to the gun lobby in return for money to run their campaigns. For their weapon, the students have chosen the vote, not the AR-15.
To arm teachers, or not to arm teachers? That is the question.
The student-led movement also supports arming teachers with the resources they need to teach, not arming them with weapons. Let guns be in the trained hands of the professional security guards. As a teacher, I also support this view, which is another reason I wanted to be at the rally. The school where I worked for 25 years has to be in the top 1% in the nation for being an ideal teaching situation, but I still encountered the rare teachers who had short fuses and unstable personalities. I would have felt fearful for my students and myself knowing they were armed. I also encountered the rare students with short fuses and unstable personalities–ones who would be able to wrestle a gun away from a teacher and use it against him or her. We hire teachers, not Dirty Harrys.
Voters want action.
Finally, I attended the rally to be counted among the legions of voters who are demanding that our elected officials enact meaningful legislation to solve this complex problem. Thoughts, prayers, and then politics as usual is not a solution. No one wants our leaders’ children to go through what the Parkland students and others have. The big question is however: What does it take for our legislators to realize how serious of a problem we have and do something about it?
Not a red state problem; not a blue state problem; it’s an American problem.
Trying to silence the children who have been traumatized by gun violence through bullying, name calling, and lying is not a solution to the problem either. American children deserve better. How ironic that the Parkland students, not the adults of this country, have rallied the troops and are leading the charge in the war for common sense gun laws. They are the idealistic, committed brave generals we require. Under their leadership, we all need to work together to make America safe again, so no child will ever have to say, “I don’t want to be next.”