As surely as there are camels’ backs and straws to break them, moments arrive when citizens say they’ve had enough, when they rise up against political leaders who do not speak for them and whose moral fecklessness imperils lives. We may be witness to such a moment now with the protests by American teenagers sickened — and terrified — by the latest mass murder at the hands of someone with easy access to a weapon fit for a battlefield, not a school.
These kids have had enough. They’ve had enough of empty expressions of sympathy in the wake of the sort of atrocities they’ve grown up with, like last week’s mass shooting that took 17 lives at a high school in Parkland, Fla. Enough of the ritualistic mouthing of thoughts and prayers for the victims. Enough of living in fear that they could be next in the cross hairs of a well-armed deranged killer, even with all the active shooter drills and lockdowns they’ve gone through. Enough of craven politicians who kneel before the National Rifle Association and its cynically fundamentalist approach to the Second Amendment.
They are asking in what kind of country are children sent off to school with bulletproof book bags strapped to their backs — capable, one manufacturer, Bullet Blocker, says, of “stopping a .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, 9mm, .45 caliber hollow point ammunition and more.”
“I was born 13 months after Columbine,” a 12th grader named Faith Ward said on Monday, referring to the school massacre in Littleton, Colo., in 1999, the dawn of the modern wave of school shootings. Ms. Ward spoke to a television reporter at an anti-gun demonstration outside her school in Plantation, Fla. “This is all I have ever known,” she said, “this culture of being gunned down for no reason, and this culture of people saying, ‘Oh, let’s send thoughts and prayers’ for three days, and then moving on. And I’m tired of it.”
So are we all.
It is too soon to tell if this righteous anger augurs a sustained youth movement for gun sanity, going beyond the occasional protest. We hope it does. It’s time, once again, for America to listen to its children. Who among us have more at stake than they?
Sensible young people have it in their power to make their senseless elders take heed — and act. We saw it happen during the Vietnam War half a century ago. Young people, initially reviled by establishment forces as unwashed, longhaired traitors, energized an antiwar movement that swept the country and, even if it took years, ultimately ended America’s misguided adventure in Southeast Asia.