High school students around the country, including students in Lawrence and Topeka, walked out of class on Wednesday to commemorate one month since the deadly shooting at a school in Parkland, Fla., and to protest gun violence. Their next major event is the March for Our Lives on March 24.
The youth are articulate and passionate. They seem committed and motivated. They have a national stage.
But let’s be clear: Their youthful optimism is up against a foe that eats optimism for breakfast. The National Rifle Association is to gun control legislation what Kansas men’s basketball is to the Big 12. Since the federal assault weapons ban was lifted in 2005, the NRA has fought any and all attempts at federal gun control legislation and won every battle, against every party, every organization and every mass shooting.
The students want action on common-sense gun control legislation — an assault weapons ban, thorough background checks without loopholes and a minimum age of 21 to purchase a gun. The NRA wants inaction.
So far, the NRA is winning, successfully quashing what the organization calls “the resistance” at nearly every turn.
In the first two weeks after the shooting in Parkland killed 17 people, it appeared the country could be on the verge of change. The Florida Legislature passed a gun control bill that, among other things, moved the age limit to 21 to buy an assault rifle. In a public meeting with members of Congress, President Donald Trump signaled support for increasing the age limit, better background checks and even nodded in agreement as Sen. Dianne Feinstein shared data with him that showed the occurrence of mass shootings had nearly quadrupled since the assault weapons ban was lifted. Trump even mocked Sen. Pat Toomey for being afraid of the NRA.
But after meetings with the NRA, Trump offered a proposal that seeks only modest improvements to background checks, but no age limits and certainly no assault weapons ban. The proposal focused mostly on policy the NRA supports: improving school security by arming school personnel and providing them with rigorous firearms training.
There have been at least three incidents since the Parkland shooting in which school personnel have fired guns in schools. Fortunately, only one student suffered minor injuries. Despite these incidents, the NRA, Trump and others — including many in the Kansas Legislature — still think increasing the number of guns in schools is the best way to make schools safer.
The students who have organized and participated in marches are to be commended for getting engaged and standing up for what they believe to be right. But they must understand that their success ultimately will depend on voting in November.
The NRA and the elected officials they back are betting that by summer, students will have turned their attention elsewhere. The question that will be answered in the coming months is whether the students are just marching in March or are part of a real movement.