By Father Gerald D. Coleman P.S.S., Pd.D
Adjunct professor, Graduate Department of Pastoral Ministries,
Santa Clara University
The impact I witnessed during the “March for Our Lives” demonstration in San Francisco, CA was overwhelming: instead of crying there was speaking, instead of mourning there was protesting, in place of defeat there was drive, instead of waiting, youth made their voices heard about gun violence. I witnessed hope and not despair, the first chapter of a new era where public morality is the issue. I was swept up into a nationwide movement spearheaded by student survivors of the Parkland massacre. Fearless young voices railed against the National Rifle Association (NRA) with the result that many corporations are bailing out of their deals with the NRI.
The energy of these students, along with thousands of parents who stood at their side, was crackling. A tipping point had been reached. Their demand is vocal, clear and ongoing: the personal cost of unabated gun violence must stop.
Gun violence in the U.S. is an epidemic. Nearly 1,300 children die yearly in shootings. Another 5,790 survive gunshot wounds from handguns, rifles and shotguns. Gunshot wounds amount to the third leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 17. So far this year, nearly 650 children have been injured or killed. Black and Brown children are killed by guns 10 times more often than white children. These deaths, mostly in urban areas, evoked little national protests, rallies, or news conferences.
After massacres in Newtown, Las Vegas, Sandy Hook, Columbine and so many other places, a paradigm shift occurred on the afternoon of February 14, 2018 at the Marjory Douglas High School in the affluent neighborhood of Parkland, Florida. A former student entered the school with an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle with multiple magazines. For 6 minutes and 20 seconds he fired indiscriminately at students and teachers, killing 14 students and 3 staff members, while wounding 17 more. President Trump offered prayers and condolences and flags were flown at half-staff. The killer was labelled a “maniac.” Political and religious leaders called for tighter control to prevent mentally disturbed people from purchasing guns. BBC News described these responses as “dodging the debate on gun control.”
The young survivors of this slaughter agreed, disenchanted by banal responses. In March, they flooded out of their classrooms and ushered in a new dawn in the struggle against gun violence. Some 800,000 students and parents gathered in Washington, D.C., New York, Philadelphia, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and hundreds of thousands more at 844 nationwide events for the “March for Our Lives.” Huge crowds chanted their way through the streets holding signs reading “Hunting season is over” and “I want to read books, not obituaries.” They demanded reasonable gun control measures and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. The New York Times hailed this moment as “a tremendous display of power,” especially in those places where school administrators tried to prohibit students from participating.
Some pundits issued vitriolic condemnation of “these idealistic, mush- brained kids.” They foolishly underestimate the fact that this generation of young adults have grown up in an era of mass shootings and have had enough. They want tangible change. They will supply several million new voters every year between now and 2030.
Change will happen. Naysayers will be silenced. Narrow-minded gun supporters will be quieted. America’s youth is rumbling and demanding radical changes to eliminate gun violence. It will happen.