After Parkland, the youth are leading change


"Why do we have to lead the change?” That was the question Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior Ryan Deitsch asked Sen. Marco Rubio at a town hall forum hosted by CNN on Feb. 21, in the wake of the school shooting in which 17 people died.

Deitsch, who hid in a closet with 19 other students during the attack in Parkland, Fla., told Rubio that he had been taking part in active shooter drills ever since he was in elementary school.

Deitsch and fellow student Emma Gonzalez — whose face has become synonymous with a youth movement that may finally wake up federal lawmakers — were among the survivors who took center stage at the forum, thrust into the national spotlight demanding stricter gun control and reform, particularly a ban on assault-style weapons.

Gonzalez — with her shaved head and unwavering defiance in the face of powerful politicians and National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch — gave a fiery speech at a rally after the shooting. Her Twitter account now has more than a million followers. Perhaps now elected officials who have toed the line for the NRA for far too long will realize that the calls for reform from Gonzalez and other young people who are, or soon will be, eligible to vote can no longer be dismissed.

As author Tim Kreider wrote in a recent op-ed in The New York Times, “The students of Parkland are like veterans coming home from the bloody front of the NRA’s de facto war on children. They’ve seen their friends, teachers and coaches gunned down in the halls.”

As their message continues to resonate across the country, school districts across Nassau County should support students’ right to free speech and protest when they join teenagers nationwide in walking out of classes on March 14 to call for stricter gun-control legislation. Students should be able to exercise their First Amendment rights without fear of an unexcused absence or other punishment.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll that found that American voters support stricter gun laws by a margin of 66 to 31 percent, the highest level of support ever measured by Quinnipiac. Sixty-seven percent support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons, and 40 percent of voters say that stricter gun control would do more to reduce gun violence in schools, while 34 percent say that metal detectors would do more and 20 percent say that armed teachers — a ridiculous solution proposed by President Trump after the massacre — are the answer.

Some elected officials from New York are already paying attention, and have supported stricter gun control laws. On Saturday, State Sen. Todd Kaminsky unveiled legislation that would prohibit teachers from carrying guns in schools, saying that “calls to arm our teachers are merely a distraction from urgently needed, common-sense gun safety measures, increased funding for mental health services, and funding for hardening technology for our schools.”

On Sunday, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer unveiled a comprehensive gun safety proposal, and urged Republicans in Congress to pass tough legislation that would close existing loopholes in the background check system, allow for protective orders to temporarily disarm individuals who have shown credible signs of being a threat to themselves or to others, and bring a formal debate on assault weapons to the Senate floor.

After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, New York state lawmakers passed companion pieces of gun-control legislation in the Senate and the Assembly aimed at stemming the flow of illegal guns through the state and reducing the number of gun deaths –– roughly six per 100,000 people, according to the FBI. The measure, aptly titled the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013, was touted at the time as the toughest gun law in the United States.

In the wake of the Parkland shooting, Trump last month signaled that he was open to a ban on bump stocks, which convert semiautomatic guns into automatic weapons like those used last year in the massacre of concertgoers in Las Vegas, though gun control advocates said that the move was minor.

It’s time to end the empty rhetoric. Our young people — our sons and daughters — have become the potential targets of the criminally insane. They no longer need our “thoughts and prayers.” They need — no, they are demanding — action, now, not later.