For years, the strategy of gun-rights advocates has been to deflect and distract whenever a mass shooting raises national consciousness. That ploy has been effective, altering the conversation until interest wanes, but it has never before confronted a force like the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Since a gunman used an AR-15 to murder 17 people at their school on Feb. 14, numerous students have been an unavoidable presence in national media, hammering home the message #NeverAgain and providing hope that the message will resonate this time.
It is tempting to suggest that if the murder of 26 people — including 20 first-graders — in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut could not bring about change, then nothing will. Yet it also is defeatist, an implication that this nation is unable to confront problems and conquer them. The students from Parkland have renewed our faith in this nation’s strength.
That strength is reflected in the impact the discussion has had upon major retailers. Sporting goods giant Dick’s has announced it will no longer sell assault-style rifles such as the AR-15 and will not sell guns to people younger than 21; and Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, has raised the age for gun purchases to 21 — as has Kroger, the parent company for Fred Meyer stores.
Critics have suggested that raising the age above the legal limit amounts to discrimination. They might be correct, and we urge gun-rights advocates to challenge that decision in court. We urge them to make arguments that the age limit for purchasing a firearm should be lower than the limit for buying a beer and to reveal in court the absurdity of their position.
Because it is absurd. This nation’s inability to deal with 30,000 gun deaths each year is an asinine result of inaction on the part of elected representatives and kowtowing to a powerful lobby headed by the National Rifle Association.
As for elected officials, a spokeswoman for Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, when asked about the congresswoman’s stance on AR-15s, wrote, “She has no interest in banning firearms that shoot one round at a time of legal ammunition.” What is missing from that response is an acknowledgement that Herrera Beutler has the power to help change those laws. Abdication of responsibility on the part of Congress is no longer acceptable.
As for the National Rifle Association, what often is overlooked is the fact that the organization claims to have 5 million members, meaning it is outnumbered roughly 64 to 1 by the rest of the U.S. population. Undoubtedly, there are Americans who oppose gun-control measures yet are not members of the NRA, but logic tells us that most people are willing to have a reasonable debate about why mass shootings are more common here than in any other nation.
That debate is being kept alive by the students from Parkland, Fla. As senior Emma Gonzalez said at a recent rally: “Every single person up here today, all these people should be home grieving. But instead we are up here standing together, because if all our government and president can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see.”
That change is long overdue. Neither gun control nor attention to mental health will prevent all mass shootings. But, as the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas have demonstrated, we will no longer be distracted from the issue.