Viewpoint: March for Our Lives signals new focus for gun reform activists: ‘Vote them out’

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It doesn’t matter that Donald Trump and the NRA-toadies in Congress had all skipped town ahead of the onslaught of an estimated 500,000 who joined the March for Our Lives calling for sane gun control.

After Sandy Hook, Pulse Nightclub, Las Vegas, and the five school shootings that took place just since Parkland, the advocates for commonsense gun regulation are done trying to appeal to lawmakers’ decency.

The overriding theme of the event, called out in every interlude between the teen and t’ween speakers who so eloquently made the argument for banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammo clips and for universal background checks was “Vote them out.”

Gun control advocates are done expecting horrific tragedy to prompt action to protect public health and safety. They are done asking. They are demanding change — be it policy or the politician.

“Either represent the people or get out … Stand for us or beware: The voters are coming,” was the manifesto from Parkland student Cameron Kasky to lawmakers. “To the leaders, skeptics and cynics who told us to sit down, stay silent and wait your turn: welcome to the revolution.”

Spiting the 90 percent of Americans who want sensible gun regulations – keeping guns from domestic abusers, the severely mentally ill, felons and terrorists, and keeping weapons designed for war off city streets where 80 percent of Americans live – and despite the fact just 22 percent actually own the 350 million guns in circulation (and just 3 percent of gun owners own half of them), the NRA has succeeded because they buy politicians but also because they manage to shepherd single-issue voters, fear-mongering the call for “sensible” gun regulation into “confiscate your guns”.

Now, the litmus test for support or opposition to a candidate will be gun regulation.

And that’s okay because it seems those who embrace sensible gun laws see gun control as a public health issue – an epidemic of lethal violence that must be addressed – and tend also to support climate action, women’s rights, justice, health care and education, and diplomacy over war.
And there will be 3.9 million high school seniors who will be eligible to vote, if not in the 2018 midterms, by the 2020 presidential.

This was quite literally a March for Our Lives. Guns have killed more children in the five years since Sandy Hook than soldiers have died in combat since 9/11. According to Everytown, there are 13,000 gun-related homicides a year (another 20,000 suicides); for every one person killed by a gun, two more are injured; seven children and teens are killed with guns every day. In 2015, Politifact confirmed Nicholas Kristof’s statement, “More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 [1,516,863] than on battlefields of all the wars in American history [1,396,733].”

It wasn’t just Parkland or Sandy Hook or Great Mills High School where just 2 days before, a 16-year old was murdered by a 17-year old ex-boyfriend using his parents’ semi-automatic handgun.

The young speakers were representative of the spectrum of gun violence that is epidemic in America and no where else in the world because of the easy access to guns: gang violence that steals so many lives in urban center cities like Los Angeles and Chicago; domestic violence and mental illness that snuffs out the souls in church, concerts, movies, shopping malls; robbery and terrorism.

And assassination, as the remarks of Martin Luther King Jr,’s 9-year old granddaughter, Yolanda Renee King, recalled: “I have a dream that enough is enough,” she said. “And that this should be a gun-free world — period.”

Then there was 11-year old Naomi Wadler from Alexandria, Va., who led the walk-out from her school for 18 minutes — 17 to honor those killed in Parkland and 1 more for the girl who was murdered from her school: “I represent the African American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential,” she said. “I’m here to say ‘Never Again’ for those girls, too.”

Each day guns kill 96 people, but few warrant media notice. American women are 16 times more likely to be shot to death than in other developed countries; When a gun is present in a domestic violence situation, the woman is five times as likely to be murdered.

But in states where a background check is required for every handgun sale, 47 percent fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners, according to EverytownResearch.org.

These most extraordinary young people described their trauma, their loss of siblings, parents, best friends, the constant anxiety they must now live with (187,000 school children today have been witness to gun attacks in their schools, according to a Washington Post study; an entire generation since the 1999 Columbine massacre lives with Live Fire drills just as the 1960s kids drilled for nuclear bomb attacks; 40 percent of Americans know someone who has been a victim of gun violence).

When Emma Gonzalez, with her poignant, piercing 6 minutes and 20 seconds of silence that mimicked the time it took for the Parkland School Shooter to kill 17, injure 17 more with his AR-15 assault rifle and simply disappear amid the fleeing students, you had the feeling of seeing a future leader, much as those who heard Hillary Clinton’s Wellesley commencement speech. And so many more on that stage.

But you also got a flash of what was lost, is lost, to society, to civilization – the potential of what these young people could have been, their lives snuffed out by the dreck of our species. Did we lose a Steve Hawking, a Malala, an Obama, a Steve Jobs, a Bill Gates?

And what of the hundreds of thousands who must live with life-altering injuries – what of the cost to society of their lost ability to fulfill their potential, of the cost of health care that might otherwise have been spent on education, professional training, investment in innovation?

And what of the cost of trauma counselors, security officers, surveillance technology and construction to harden schools, diverting scarce funds from actual education?

Enough is Enough, the speakers declared. Never Again, was the reply back, perhaps more hopefully, given that there are still more than 200 days before the midterm elections, and 250 days before a new Congress is seated. How many more will die until then?

“We’re done hiding, being afraid,” Ryan Deitsch, a survivor of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, declared. “That’s not what our Founding Fathers envisioned when they wrote of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ This is the beginning of the end. This is the fight for our lives. REV up America: Register to vote. Then educate. Then vote.”

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