The debate over gun regulation and school shootings continues to roil more than two weeks after the killing of 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Broward County, Florida.
Three days after the shooting at her high school, senior Kyra Parrow tweeted: “Despite having our hearts ripped out of our chests. Despite losing our friends and coaches. Despite living through a nightmare. As students of Douglas, we are the voice of this generation. And I’ll be damned if anyone thinks they can silence us.”
Her Twitter account now has more than 71,000 followers. Fellow senior Emma Gonzalez has more than 1.1 million followers on Twitter. The students know how to use social media, and grown-ups who tangle with them online do so at their peril. These teens can deploy memes and images more quickly and effectively than any corporate social media manager.
Last week, Kyra tweeted: “In a century from now, in a history text book, I want 2018 to be known for the year that teenagers rocked the nation.”
That just may turn out to be the case.
It’s been fewer than three weeks since the Parkland shooting, and the growing student movement, Never Again, led by Marjory Stoneman Douglas survivors, has already chalked up major gains.
Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. announced Wednesday it would no longer sell assault-style rifles — including the AR-15, the weapon of choice for the Parkland gunman and other mass shooters — and high-capacity magazines. The Pittsburgh-based company also said it no longer would sell guns to anyone younger than 21.
Walmart, which previously had stopped selling the AR-15 and other “modern sporting rifles,” also announced that day that it would raise the minimum age for buying ammunition as well as firearms to 21.
Brian H. Hoover, president of the Pennsylvania Game Commission and representative of the southeast region, told LNP he personally was “appalled by the use of a tragedy to build business through publicity stunts such as this.” And Lancaster County gun store owners disagreed with the stances taken by the national retailers.
We understand that they want to do business differently. And maybe these moves by large companies are “publicity stunts.” But they say something about the growing influence of young people.
The Opinion pages of LNP have been filled with letters to the editor from students pleading with adults to help end school shootings; still more of their letters are published today. Students have been writing, even as some of their schools have experienced threats. Nearly half of Hempfield High School students stayed home Wednesday, the day specified in a graffiti threat found in a school bathroom the previous week.
It is unnerving for students, parents and teachers to have to face the potential, however slim, of a shooting in their school. But this is the world we live in now. This is the world adults have created for children. And the children have decided it’s no longer acceptable.
“If our secondary level students choose to ‘walk out’ to advocate for safer schools, we will support their freedom of speech while ensuring it is done safely and respectfully as part of a learning process,” Manheim Township Superintendent Robin Felty wrote in a letter to the school community.
We appreciate the nod to freedom of speech. It stands in stark contrast to the threat made by a Texas school superintendent who said his district would suspend any student who participates in the walkout — an unconstitutional sanction. As Georgetown law professor Heidi Li Feldman pointed out to The Washington Post, “Content-based restrictions on speech are anathema to the First Amendment.”
Last Sunday, we made a plea for adults — elected officials, especially — to heed the voices of the students, members of Generation Z.
In today’s Perspective section, Elizabethtown College professor April Kelly-Woessner points out that someday soon, elected officials will have no choice but to listen. This generation’s obsession with safety, “combined with the experience of watching their peers get gunned down in their schools,” Kelly-Woessner writes, means these young people “will demand tougher gun control laws, including a ban on assault rifles. Americans are already divided enough on these issues that it won’t take much for Gen Z to shift the balance of power.”
This generation’s sway already is being seen in corporate America.
The co-founders of the ride-sharing company Lyft sent a letter Friday saying it will offer free rides to students taking part in any of the March for Our Lives rallies planned for March 24 in Washington, D.C., and other cities across the country.
“We believe there is something seriously wrong when the threat of gun violence is so frequent and real throughout our country,” Logan Green and John Zimmer wrote to the student activists at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. “Your bravery and intelligence have provided a renewed and much needed hope for our future. We are incredibly grateful for the example you are setting.”
We’re grateful, too. And waiting, not so patiently, for the members of Congress to catch up. We’re guessing that those who don’t want to take even modest steps — like instituting universal background checks — are waiting out the clock, hoping the tragedy at Parkland will recede in voters’ minds, like so many tragedies before it.
It doesn’t appear that’s going to happen anytime soon. As Marjory Stoneman Douglas senior Kyra Parrow suggested, this just might be the year — an election year, no less — when teenagers rock the nation.