There is no telling how many Clark County students will walk out of class today as part of a national movement to bring attention to the issue of gun violence. But there also is no doubt that something feels different about the aftermath of a shooting that killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Fla.
That shooting was one month ago today, on Feb. 14. Since then, largely through the efforts of surviving students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the issue has remained near the forefront of the national discussion. Several Stoneman Douglas students have taken charge of the #NeverAgain movement, remaining prominent in national media and bringing attention to issues that all too often are buried in the aftermath of a mass shooting.
Such attention is most welcome. The United States has, by far, the highest rate of gun deaths among developed nations; it also has, by far, the highest rate of civilian gun ownership. It is absurd to suggest that these two facts are unrelated, and a comparison of gun deaths and gun ownership by state makes clear the connection.
Add to that the fact that the United States is the only nation in which mass shootings are common, and the need for change becomes evident. We encourage Congress to act quickly to ban assault-style rifles, reinstituting a prohibition that was in place from 1994 to 2004. (Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, has rejected calls for such a ban.)
Whether or not the issue justifies a walkout by local students is not for us to say. We encourage students to express their beliefs and to bring attention to a pressing issue, yet we also recommend that they have a discussion with their parents before deciding to walk out. It also is essential to respect the rights of students who choose to not leave class, be it because of their personal beliefs about gun rights or their belief that school is for learning and not for political protests. For people on both sides of the issue, we urge robust discussion and civil disagreement.
Meanwhile, we are encouraged by administrators’ willingness to accommodate students who plan to protest. As Vancouver Public Schools principals wrote in a letter to parents last week: “When students advocate appropriately for change, it can be a powerful learning experience. We also recognize that some students may not want to participate in a walkout or related activities and may prefer to stay in class. We are committed to ensuring that all students feel safe and respected.” (For the record, walkouts will be marked as unexcused absences.)
Indeed, the aftermath of the Parkland shooting has been a powerful learning experience for teens and adults alike. Students from Stoneman Douglas have given voice to opinions that typically are silenced in the wake of a mass shooting — until the inevitable next shooting.
As of the Parkland massacre, the United States had seen 1,624 shootings in 1,870 days in which at least four people were shot, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Six mass shootings a week over the span of five years is a shameful indictment of this nation’s failure to act.
Because of that, we support those who choose to leave class today and those who plan to participate in a national protest on March 24, including events in Vancouver and Portland. As a student organizer at Evergreen High School told The Columbian, “I hope people take away that they actually have a voice and even though they’re young, they can speak up for what they believe in.”