Friday, March 2, 2018

This Time Feels Different

This Time Feels Different

by Ted Miller
(originally published March 2018 in Tumbleweird)

When I heard the news on February 14th of yet another school shooting, this time at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, I predicted we would see the same tired divisive arguments in the news, on social media, and from our politicians. There would be much outrage, grief, denial, calls for gun control, and “thoughts and prayers.” 

The same script played out like clockwork. And I figured that, as has happened with every mass shooting, the attention of the public would shift after a few days and absolutely nothing would change. I reminded myself that if the December 2012 murder of twenty children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut wouldn’t drive change, if the mass murder of concert goers in Las Vegas last year couldn’t even convince Congress to ban bump-stocks, then surely another mass shooting wasn’t going to be any different.

As I listened to interviews with lawmakers on the news the next day, I heard a congressman repeatedly pivot the discussion to argue about the precise definition of an assault weapon instead of focusing on the problem or propose any sort of solution to reduce gun violence in our nation. I was so frustrated I actually screamed at my radio.

When I saw the same tired, baseless arguments all over social media, I called it “Political Polarization Paralysis” in a social media post. That’s what we seem to have become: Too paralyzed to make any difference whatsoever. I felt helpless. I felt hopeless. I cried.

Then I heard that some of the surviving high school students were speaking up. In the midst of their grief and anger, they were making passionate arguments for change. I read Cameron Kasky’s op-ed published by CNN. I heard David Hogg’s media interviews. I listened to Delaney Tarr address the Florida legislature. I watched Emma Gonzalez’s passionate speech at a gun-control rally a mere three days after the shooting. These teenagers are not taking “no” for an answer. Emma Gonzalez spoke for her peers when she said:

Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this, we call BS. They say tougher guns laws do not 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 no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS. That us kids don't know what we're talking about, that we're too young to understand how the government works. We call BS.

These media-savvy young people know how to get their message out. The news corporations and the public have taken notice. Their message is consistent, pointed, and effective.

And right on cue, the backlash from the extreme right has been severe, attacking the students with conspiracy theories in an attempt to undermine their credibility, claiming they have no right to speak up, and bullying them in an attempt to silence them. Death threats began almost immediately. The rabid mob mentality in our society to attack people for speaking up is shameful. But these young people, who demonstrate more maturity and resolve than the leaders who are supposed to protect them, will not be deterred.

Gun rights extremists are quick to blame gun violence on video games, lack of religion, mental illness, broken families, illegal immigration, or any number of other things. But they will never admit that largely unregulated and easy access to firearms has an irrefutable relationship to the number of mass shootings in the United States. And while other countries have the same violence in video games and movies, the same mental health problems, similar divorce rates, and declining participation in religion, mass shootings are extremely rare.

What is the difference? The number of guns, the lethality of assault-style weapons, and the ease of obtaining them. That is what has to change. We must regulate guns the way we regulate everything else that poses a risk to the public.

Heroes don’t ask to be heroes.  Last month these young activists were worried about mid-terms, proms and their next issue of the school newspaper. Today they are leading a national movement. They aren’t old enough to vote, but they are old enough to make a difference. They are prepared, they are organized, and they are passionate. They are tireless. They are speaking out for their dead classmates and the hundreds of other murdered students who can no longer speak for themselves.

Maybe, just maybe, this time is different. What lawmakers, pundits, leaders, and other gun violence survivors have been unable to do, these young leaders are now doing. Republican Congressman and Army veteran Brian Mast has called for a ban on assault weapons, major companies are cutting their ties to the NRA, and students across the nation are joining forces to bring about change.

I no longer feel helpless and hopeless. I feel hope and optimism for change. The future is in good hands.


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