I stepped off the subway onto the platform and was greeted by a massive crowd of people all carrying handmade posters made of construction paper and paint sticks, posters calling for justice and for action. As we trod up the steps to the street, we saw ahead of us a sea of people stretching from where we stood to the skyscrapers on the horizon. The heart of Boston was full of angry, loud, and impassioned protesters of all ages, creeds, ethnicities, and genders. The march began at Madison Park High School in Roxbury and ended at the Boston Common, where an enormous rally was held. As we marched, we chanted, we cheered, and we yelled; I remember passing one man on the sidewalk who was sitting back and singing “love is all that matters” over and over again.
They called all the students to the front of the masses that stretched across the entire Boston Common. Pushing ahead, I hopped up on the metal gate that held the protestors back from the large stage at the top of the hill. From there I could see everything: the speakers at the podium, the Boston high school students right up there with them, and the thousands and thousands of people behind me. The speakers were unbelievably charismatic, perhaps even more so because of their inherent “normalness”. Almost all were average citizens: students, teachers, and graduates just like the rest of us. The utter rage and passion in their voices, however, brought tears to our eyes and made our hearts leap to our throats. Speakers varied from students who live in Parkland and had attended or were attending Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, to students who live in the Greater Boston area and who face gun violence every day, to a musical group comprised of ex-child soldiers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their overwhelming message was clear: guns have no place in schools, whether in the hands of the students or those of the teachers. People are dying every day and the US government isn’t doing anything to stop it. The movement, then, must be driven by the people.
And the people have surely shown the truth in this; turnout in Boston alone was between 50,000 and 100,000 protesters. The main March in Washington, DC was one of the biggest in our nation’s history.
What’s going on in America right now? That’s the million dollar question. On February 14th, 2018, a former student armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 of his fellow classmates and wounding 17 more. This is not the first school shooting that the United States has seen in the past 18 years – far from it. In the first 3 months of 2018, there have been 17 school shootings and many more unnecessary deaths. Gun control is by no means a new conversation; the liberals in this country have been pushing stricter gun laws for years, but never before has this issue taken center stage to the extent that it has today. Why is this? Why is Parkland different? Surviving students from the shooting this past February have started a revolution. They’ve been appearing on all sorts of news circuits, speaking with elected officials and at the White House, and calling for change and for the end of the National Rifle Association’s clutch on politicians, primarily those from the GOP. These students are the ones saying that this country has seen enough shootings, and suddenly Americans at large – in particular other students – are listening. Perhaps it’s because the Stoneman Douglas shooting happened so soon after the Las Vegas shooting, where over 50 people were gunned down at a music concert, and it now seems that these shootings are increasing at exponential rates. Perhaps it’s because these Parkland high schoolers aren’t afraid to speak the truth. Perhaps it’s because they themselves were the victims here. Regardless of the cause, students across the nation are crying out that these mindless deaths are a result of the money that’s being pumped into the pockets of those in Congress who oppose gun laws – and they’re not wrong. The NRA spent over 30 million US dollars on Trump’s campaign alone in the 2016 presidential election.
But it’s not just the right-wing politicians who aren’t in favor of gun laws. There are many misconceptions and fears about gun control, when the reality is that nobody – in Congress, at least – is pushing to have the use of all guns banned. People simply don’t want semi-automatic weapons in the hands of civilians, in particular those who are mentally unstable. This also means increased regulation, particularly background checks, when purchasing a gun.
It seems reasonable, right? At the moment anyone can buy a gun, and anyone can sell you a gun. There was a viral video released over the last few months, depicting a 13-year-old boy who went from store to store trying to buy alcohol, tobacco, and gambling tickets. After being denied at all of these locations because of his age, he walked into a store to buy a gun and walked back out within minutes in possession of an assault rifle.
So what’s up with America’s gun problem? It’s lunacy. That’s the bottom line. To operate a car, the average person goes through extensive training and takes various tests before acquiring a license. At the very least, every driver must be a certain age and must pass an assessment that proves they can operate the vehicle properly. This is, of course, because cars can kill people, even if it’s not their direct function. The government, therefore, wants to ensure that all who drive can drive safely. We aren’t going to ban vehicles, but we also aren’t going to let a ten-year-old drive – or own, for that matter – a car. If someone is mentally or physically impaired – they are blind, say – they may legally not be able to drive. In contrast, the only purpose for a semi-automatic weapon is to kill many people in a very short amount of time. They serve no other purpose. You don’t go hunting with assault rifles, you don’t use them for self-protection; they are quite literally death machines. Yet, guns of all kinds are available to anyone who wishes to purchase them – no training, no tests, no way to ensure that the buyers are not suicidal or homicidal. How can this be? Who can justify why alcohol, tobacco, driving – all things that aren’t intended to harm but can harm just the same – are harder to acquire than a weapon that is solely meant to kill?
The answer is clear: cars aren’t politicized. Guns, on the other hand, are heavily politicized. Affinity for guns has become a cultural identity, an aesthetic – a symbol for independence, masculinity, grit, conservatism, and especially freedom, a concept the American right is obsessed with. The violence of gun culture has been glorified, playing on the “every man for himself” mentality that has evolved since the country’s birth. It’s why we have capitalism, it’s in part why we have a failing healthcare system, and it’s why we have an irrational fear of big government. The second amendment of the Constitution – which says that citizens have a right to maintain a “well-regulated militia” – has been twisted by the extreme right into a rallying cry; they claim that gun control in any capacity must be an infringement on freedom, and therefore inherently un-American. Of course, the second amendment actually never explicitly says that all Americans have the right to own, carry, and use a gun of any kind. The Constitution was also written hundreds of years before the creation of semi-automatic weapons, before an average of 96 Americans died every day from gun violence. Given both the historical context and the current situation our country faces, the second amendment argument holds absolutely no weight. Nobody needs an assault rifle. Semi-automatic weapons belong in war zones, not schools, not anywhere. Something must be done to prevent more senseless killings, and yet nothing is being done. It is, in my mind, despicable.
It’s important to note the clear tie between racism and the obsession with guns in this country. When slavery was still legal in America, the only thing protecting the white plantation owners from their hundreds of able-bodied slaves, whom they were abusing, raping, and beating, were the guns locked up in the upstairs closet. This “white fear” of black people still exists. It was heightened when the first black president called for gun control; the lowest fringes of society came to fear that black people and Muslim terrorists were coming to get them, and coming to take their guns. Conversations about gun violence must include mention of race. Many predominantly black communities face heavy gun violence that is normalized by society and ignored by the media and Congress, a clear indication of the systemic racism that lives on in this country. The movement instigated by the Parkland shooting has certainly brought to surface much talk about racial inequity. Some feel frustrated that it took a shooting in a white neighborhood to begin this movement.
While this is certainly bleak, many Americans – and people around the world – are choosing to be on the right side of history. There were 800 sister marches around the world on March 24th; hundreds of thousands of people came to rally against corruption, against racism, against violence. While gun control is certainly not a new discussion, this new movement seems to have caught fire in a way it never has before. It is my hope that change truly is afoot, that Congress will no longer blindly accept directives from the gun lobby, that we as a country will take a good long look at our history, our culture, and our wrongdoings. We – the people – cannot change the past, but we now have a chance to change the future. This is wildly empowering.