Gun reform rally

THE ISSUE

Hundreds of thousands gathered Saturday in Washington, D.C., and cities around the country to march in support of gun reform. The demonstrations were in response to the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. A group of teenagers from Solanco High School joined the Washington protest. In Lancaster, several thousand people made their way through the downtown. The event started with a march from Clipper Magazine Stadium that ended at Binns Park. About 30 high school and college students from Lancaster County and the region helped put the event together.

The sign Solanco High School junior Jenna Beth Phillips made and waved at the massive “March for Our Lives” in Washington, D.C., read: “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”

That phrase has been attributed variously to a Greek poet and a Mexican proverb. It seems particularly apt when describing the #NeverAgain movement, led by the student survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Some adults, particularly the hard-liners in the National Rifle Association leadership — using rhetoric the association’s members surely must abhor — have taunted and maligned the student activists.

But those student activists have been undaunted. And they’ve awakened students across the country. Consider the thousands of Lancaster County residents who filled Binns Park for the local “March for Our Lives.”

Consider the fact that a busload of students from Solanco made the journey to Washington, and were undeterred by a bus breakdown along the way.

Kyle Osborne, vice president of Solanco’s junior class, told LNP’s Jeff Hawkes that he was moved to organize the bus trip after watching Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, deliver a speech last month challenging elected officials to enact gun legislation.

“That sold me and made me feel like this is important,” Osborne said.

It really is important. And it appears that the young people who attended the marches in Washington and Lancaster city Saturday — and across the nation and globe — are intent on pushing for change that their elders have been unable or unwilling to enact.

Importantly, a focus at the march in Washington was on voter registration. The teen speakers there repeatedly reminded the politicians in Washington that they would be voting on the issue of gun regulation.

We hope they keep that promise.

We don’t want to see a blanket ban on gun ownership — far from it. We believe that Lancaster County residents have a right to defend themselves, and a right to hunt. But we do not believe they need AR-15s to do either of those things.

And we certainly don’t believe that a troubled student should be able to purchase a weapon that belongs on the battlefield, not in the home.

The student journalists who work for The Eagle Eye, the student newspaper at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, offered their “manifesto” for gun regulation reform in The Guardian newspaper Friday. Don’t let the word “manifesto” scare you; these are ideas that polls show most Americans support.

— Ban semi-automatic weapons that fire high-velocity rounds.

— Ban accessories that simulate automatic weapons.

— Establish a database of gun sales and universal background checks.

— Change privacy laws to allow mental health care providers to communicate with law enforcement.

— Close gun show and secondhand sales loopholes.

— Allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make recommendations for gun reform.

— Raise the firearm purchase age to 21.

— Dedicate more funds to mental health research and professionals.

— Increase funding for school security.

We find these suggestions much more sensible than the one offered Sunday by former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania on CNN: “How about kids, instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations (so) that when there is a violent shooter, that you can actually respond to that?”

As if CPR could save the life of a student whose flesh and organs and tissues have been ripped apart and decimated by high-velocity bullets shot from an AR-15.

As if the students who marched Saturday were “looking to someone else to solve their problem.”

To the contrary, they were facing this problem squarely and challenging elected officials either to get on board or risk being voted out of office.

These young people aren’t likely to give up their argument until they prevail (we know this from years of parenting experience).

At the “March for Our Lives” in Washington, Stoneman Douglas senior Samantha Fuentes, who had been shot in both legs during the Feb. 14 assault, took to the podium to deliver a poem titled “Enough” that she’d written about that day.

Her one eye still black (perhaps because a piece of shrapnel remains lodged behind her eye), Fuentes intoned: “Day in and day out our kids are getting shot up, and the moment we speak up, we’re scolded that we are not old enough. It’s as if we need permission to ask our friends not to die. Lawmakers and politicians will scream guns are not the issue, but can’t look me in the eye.”

She seemed to gulp for air. And then she doubled over and vomited behind the podium. People rushed on to the stage to help her.

She gathered herself, giggled, and said, as a friend rubbed her back, “I just threw up on international television, and it feels great.”

And then she finished reciting her poem, and finally led the weeping crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to her friend, Nicholas Dworet, who would have turned 18 Saturday had he not been killed in the shooting at Stoneman Douglas.

Nerves could not stop her. Emotion could not stop her. Throwing up in front of a crowd of tens of thousands of people could not stop her. Most of us would have limped off the stage in humiliation and sought consolation from those who loved us. But not this young woman.

Nothing — grief, trauma, exhaustion, anxiety — has stopped the leaders of the #NeverAgain movement. And judging by Saturday’s turnout in Binns Park, it appears that the local teenagers who organized that large and energetic event aren’t going to be fazed by much, either.

Now it’s up to us grownups to decide whether to support them or be pushed aside, as they move forward.

Student forum

Students from high schools around Lancaster County will discuss school safety and shootings, gun regulation and the #NeverAgain movement in the LNP studio today at 4 p.m. The discussion will be livestreamed on LancasterOnline and the LNP+LancasterOnline Facebook page.