By now, how we react to a mass shooting, and how we don’t, has begun to feel like a foregone conclusion. Within moments of the first news reports, politicians offer “thoughts and prayers,” while the rest of us either sit feeling helpless or go out and buy more guns. Before long, we find ourselves rehashing the same debates we’d had only months before: whether any civilian has the right to own an assault rifle (they don’t); whether the actual crisis here is mental illness (it’s not); whether it’s wrong to immediately politicize tragedy (well, sometimes); and so forth, until the conversation inevitably moves on after a few days.
This is what happens after every mass shooting, and it’s what most of us assumed would happen again, after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last Wednesday that left seventeen people dead.
Instead, just as the familiar cycle had begun, Sarah Chadwick, a sophomore at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, offered a scorching rebuke of the president of the United States and his tweet of condolence that immediately went viral.
Chadwick’s tweet was followed by similar messages from her classmates, many of whom took issue with the president blaming them for the tragedy, with claims from other conservatives that the response should not be political, and with the seeming endlessness of mass shootings in general.
it is actually about guns u witch from hell https://t.co/mva3qYu0Tc
— nikki (@nikta04) February 15, 2018
A gun has killed 17 of my fellow classmates. A gun has traumatized my friends. My entire school, traumatized from this tragedy. This could have been prevented. Please stfu tomi https://t.co/qNo03ZE3Ev
— kyra (@longlivekcx) February 15, 2018
This is my grandpa. When he was 12 years old, he hid in a closet while his family was murdered during the first mass shooting in America. Almost 70 years later, I also hid in a closet from a murderer. These events shouldn't be repetitive. Something has to change. #douglasstrong pic.twitter.com/nDctTNlUNs
— carly (@car_nove) February 15, 2018
In the days since, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas have swiftly built a movement for gun reform unlike anything we’ve ever witnessed. Through stirring interviews on national television, widely shared social media posts, and op-eds in the New York Times, the young advocates have quickly turned our reflexive post-tragedy response on its head. They are seething, eloquent, organized, and digitally savvy. And perhaps most crucially, the students are unflinchingly bold in their demand: Properly address gun control, so there’s not one more death at the hands of a mass shooter.
“We are going to be the last mass shooting,” declared Marjory Stoneman Douglas senior Emma Gonzalez during an emotional speech at a rally in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday. “We are going to change the law. That’s going to be Marjory Stoneman Douglas in that textbook, and it’s going to be due to the tireless effort of the school board, the faculty members, the family members, and most of all the students.”
Emma Gonzalez, a student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, delivers an emotional message at a rally to support gun safety legislation: "We are going to be the kids that you read about in textbooks… we are going to be the last mass shooting." https://t.co/ZQL7Bue3CI pic.twitter.com/26x1n1lzBA
— ABC News (@ABC) February 18, 2018
It’s a radical goal born of more radical circumstances. Raised in the post-Columbine era, these students, and the rest of their generation, have inherited an era of weekly school shootings — incidents so prevalent that an older generation of survivors now exists to offer advice and support to the Parkland students, even via Twitter as the shooting was underway — and have spent their earliest moments in the classroom preparing for what has become a uniquely American trauma. They’re now coming of age under elected leadership whose primary impulse is to sell off the future for a profit. Meanwhile, the progressive adults in the room, and the pundits who claim to speak for them, have basically abandoned the pretense of real change — accepting not only the routine fact of mass shootings, but the arrangement in which politicians on both sides are bought and sold by special interests.
The students know all this, and so it is both enraging and inspiring to watch them negotiate their ambitions with adults who somehow still think in terms of incremental reforms and bipartisan consensus. Yesterday, Gonzalez and her classmate David Hogg were interviewed by CNN’s Alisyn Camerota, who asked how the two could “expect politicians who need money” to ever rebuff the NRA. “Because we keep telling them that if they accept this blood money, they’re against the children, they’re against the people who are dying — there’s no other way to put it at this point,” Gonzalez replied. “We don’t have jobs, so we can’t pay for your campaign.”
Hogg, equally exasperated, added, “If you can’t get elected without taking money from child murderers, why are you running?”
Those without a good answer to that question have soon found themselves the target of the students’ ire. After Marco Rubio claimed this weekend that laws alone won’t curb mass shootings, Marjory Stoneman Douglas junior Cameron Kasky seized on the NRA-approved talking point to draw attention to the $3 million in donations the senator received from the gun lobby. “It’s not our job to tell you, Senator Rubio, how to protect us,” Kasky said Sunday on Face the Nation. “The fact that we even have to do this is appalling.… Your job is to protect us and our blood is on your hands.”
It’s this sort of explicit condemnation that has kept Parkland in the news, and ensured the topic of gun control doesn’t drop off the nation’s radar, as typically happens within a few days of a mass shooting. And Kasky and his classmates aren’t about to let up. On Tuesday, around one hundred of them are traveling to Tallahassee to push the Florida state legislature to enact more gun control. And their efforts have also activated teenagers across the country, leading one Connecticut high schooler to plan a nationwide walkout on the nineteenth anniversary of Columbine in April. Most significantly, the students have started a nationally focused group called March for Our Lives, with plans to fill the streets of Washington, D.C., on March 24.
“My message for the people in office is: You’re either with us or against us,” added Kasky. “We are losing our lives while the adults are playing around.”