Elected officials — and those running for office — should take note. The debate over gun violence is not one that can be ignored.
That was evident Saturday, as Americans marched in Vancouver, Portland and hundreds of other cities in an inspiring protest of this nation’s abhorrent gun violence. In Vancouver, an estimated 1,000 people took part; in Portland, about 12,000 participated. In Washington, D.C., the centerpiece of the protests, estimates range from 200,000 to 800,000.
Regardless of how many people participated, the point is that much attention will be placed upon gun laws in November elections. Spurred by survivors of a February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead, Americans are unlikely to allow lawmakers to eschew discussion about the issue as they have attempted in the past.
For weeks now, the media-savvy Parkland students have provided an exhilarating reminder of the power of the people and the resiliency of youth. Refusing to be silenced and actively engaging their critics, they have articulately raised the level of discussion. As columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote for The Washington Post: “The sense of amazement among adults, including jaded members of the media, was palpable — both because supposedly sophisticated adults had not pulled off this kind of change in attitudes about guns in the decades they’d been trying and because the teenagers shredded the talking points, the lies, the cynicism and the indifference that we’ve become accustomed to in our politics.”
The lies and cynicism have been in evidence, including through fake internet memes designed to undermine the teenagers. For one example, we turn to former Republican Congressman Rick Santorum, who on Sunday said, “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 that when there is a violent shooter that you can actually respond to that?”
The absurdity of the comment has been equaled by other gun-rights advocates attempting to dismiss the power of the movement. In each case, critics remind us that they are the wrong side of history. Instead of teaching our teenagers how to respond to an active shooter, we should be limiting the odds of such a shooting taking place.
It is tempting, when we see widespread protests, to overstate the extent of a movement. Although millions of Americans took part in Saturday’s marches, more than 320 million did not, and many citizens are opposed to any manner of gun control. But there are strong indications that the public favors some reasonable measures; a recent poll commissioned by the Associated Press indicated that 69 percent of adults favor stronger restrictions. Lawmakers should pay attention, and members of the Washington Legislature who failed to adopt reasonable restrictions during this year’s session should be prepared to answer some pointed questions come election season.
In the meantime, we find inspiration in the Parkland students and their dedication to keeping the issue in the public eye. The speech delivered Saturday by Emma Gonzalez stands as a remarkable example of oratory — and silence — that was at once compelling, profound and moving.
Dissent, it has been said, is the highest form of patriotism. Although that quote often is wrongly attributed to Thomas Jefferson, it represents an ideology being adopted by Americans who recognize the need for change in our gun laws. That ideology will be impossible to ignore this November.