One month ago, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students ran outside with arms up after surviving a shooting that killed 17 people and injured 17 others.
On Wednesday, the Parkland survivors marched out of school again – this time with students nationwide showing their support by doing the same thing.
The students marched out in memory of those who died and to protest politicians who refuse to do something about the availability of military-style assault weapons, which make mass killings so easy.
They marched out to show the growth of their movement, which in just one month, managed to loosen the National Rifle Association’s grip on the Florida Legislature and secure the state’s first new gun regulations in decades.
And they marched out to show that America’s kids are fed up with the inability of their elders to do something about gun violence.
Their call for change will sound again this week – on an even larger scale – when the Parkland students lead a march on Washington, D.C.
There, they will face political obstacles more daunting than the roadblocks they overcame in Tallahassee.
The timing of the Parkland shooting – during the state legislative session and in an election year – forced Florida lawmakers to approve modest changes to the state’s gun laws. It is shameful that lawmakers did nothing after 49 largely gay and Hispanic young people were similarly massacred at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub two years ago.
It’s a welcome change that Florida now requires people who want to buy rifles and shotguns to be at least 21 and wait three days before taking possession. The new law also outlaws bump-stocks and lets police officers confiscate guns from people considered dangerous. Plus, there’s money for hardening schools and mental health screenings.
But lawmakers refused to listen to the students – or the families of the victims – when it came to banning high-velocity, semi-automatic assault-style rifles, the weapon of choice for mass killers.
When student marchers descend on the nation’s capital, they will face members of Congress who will similarly refuse to listen. Sadly, that lineup includes Florida’s junior senator, Marco Rubio, who more than protecting kids from people with assault weapons, speaks loudest for protecting people’s right to buy any kind of weapon they want. After the shooting, Rubio initially said he would favor raising the minimum age to purchase an assault rifle to 21 and restricting the size of magazines for firearms. But once he returned to Washington, he changed his mind.
Like Rubio, too many politicians treat access to military-style rifles and high-capacity magazines as a Second Amendment birthright. But rifles like the AR-15 are meant for war, not hunting or target practice. Their high-velocity bullets are far more lethal than those from semi-automatic handguns. They pulverize body parts and leave doctors little to repair.
The divide over sensible gun reforms is not just a Red vs. Blue issue, either. When Democrats controlled both houses of Congress early in President Obama’s first term, they failed to change anything. And while Democrats claimed a narrow – and politically sea-changing – victory in a Pennsylvania congressional race Tuesday, the winner, Conor Lamb, doesn’t support an assault weapons ban. So getting Congress to reinstate the assault weapons ban lifted in 2004, or even take the modest steps approved in Florida, would take a political miracle.
This nation is ready for a miracle.
About 66 percent of Americans support stricter gun laws, according to a recent poll released by Quinnipiac University. And 67 percent support a ban on assault weapons.
That support was evidenced Wednesday in social media posts, tweets and comments as students marched out of their classrooms.
“Proud of every kid who walked out to make change today, and mourning every child who didn’t get to make this decision because of an assault rifle,” wrote Lisa Getter Peterson on Facebook.
“I find it amusing that people bemoan that today’s youth are lazy and selfish, and the moment they stand up and take action, they are criticized for being ‘manipulated and exploited,’” replied Ellen Livingston.
Some trolls went online to tell the “Tide-pod eaters” to get back to class. But their negativity was countered by those who find hope in the students.
The student’s movement reminds us of the students of yesteryear, whose protests helped bring an end to the Vietnam War. It also reminds us of the civil rights marchers, who proudly took their seats at the lunch counter and refused to sit at the back of the bus. It also reminds us of the young people of the Arab Spring, who harnessed the power of social media to topple military dictators.
So on they go to Washington on March 24. And on they go to voter registration drives – a big slew of them, we hope. And on they go to collecting signatures for a constitutional amendment drive to ban assault weapons in Florida.
And on they go to November’s elections, when we will count on them to help deliver the change we seek.
A version of this editorial first appeared in the Florida Sun Sentinel.