Changing the Equation


The day after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. last month, many of the nation’s major newspapers ran a story with a similar theme. They wrote about how, despite the seemingly endless run of similar tragedies, nothing seems to change.

The New York Times even ran a collection of photos from the past 20 years depicting the sequence of events that take place when there’s one of these shootings — a president offering condolences, parents crying outside a school, a community holding a candlelight vigil, parents testifying before Congress about the need for change.

The thrust of these stories, of course, is that nothing happens after all that. Nothing. Which is why the pictures look the same 20 years later, except for the occupant of the White House. The sentiment expressed in those stories was that nothing was likely to change this time, either.

And maybe they’re right. But this time, something is very different, and because of that, this story may have a different ending.

What’s different is the manner in which the students at the high school have come forward to essentially demand change — and how their courage and conviction are inspiring others to do the same. They have struck a chord with many Americans, from the CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods, who announced that the company would no longer sell automatic rifles — or any gun to anyone under the age of 21 — to governors and congressmen.

We can only hope that momentum isn’t lost and that the nation doesn’t move on from Parkland, as it has moved on from the gun tragedies that came earlier, before other, more significant changes can come about.

That’s still a distinct possibility, but the young people in Parkland, and those walking out of schools across the country in silent and sometimes not-so-silent protest, might change the equation just like the women who sparked the #MeToo movement have.

How? By essentially getting in the face of the generations that came before them and saying, ‘you’ve failed us, and you need to do better.’ And never has a truer statement been spoken. Members of those older generations — from the sheriffs in Parkland who missed all those signs and failed to go into the school and stop the shooter, to elected leaders who stifle any and all efforts to curb access to guns — failed those young people. And it’s easy to see why they’re so angry, disappointed, and bent on inspiring change.

For members of those older generations, the biggest worries they faced in high school were passing a physics exam, the acne on their face, and getting a date for the prom. They didn’t have to worry about getting shot at by someone not mentally fit to be owning a gun but in possession of one anyway.

Today’s young people do. And they shouldn’t have to. They have a right to be safe, and the older generations are obligated to honor that right.

Let’s be clear about something. This is not about guns. Or just about guns. It’s also about mental health, and bullying, and somehow controlling the hate that is spreading through this country like a wildfire. But guns are a big part of the equation.

Making sure that guns don’t wind up in the hands of someone who would kill 17 high-school students is a daunting, almost impossible task. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try. And it starts by paying as much attention to why people pull the trigger (especially in a crowded school or theater) as we do to who can buy guns and when.

Maybe those convinced that nothing significant is going to change this time are right — already, Congress seems stuck in quicksand over the same old fights. But thanks to those students in Florida and the countless others they’ve inspired, there is more hope than ever before that a corner can be turned, and high-school students can someday go back to just worrying about acne and a physics test.

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