As young people try to sustain the momentum of the moment, they should stay focused on the political process and keep making it personal.
The day before 800,000 or so of their constituents showed up in Washington, DC, for the recent March for Our Lives, the US Congress recessed yet again and left town. At the same time, Trump fled to his golf course in Florida, not far from where 17 people lost their lives in the latest mass shooting at a public school in America. Ironically, stuck in the middle of the demonstration and unable to move was the Trump International Hotel, front doors shut tight and looking mighty uncomfortable amid 800,000 demonstrators, not one of whom likely had a reservation.
It is not surprising that Trump decided to flee. He knows that almost no one at that rally or the other affiliated rallies around the country and the world think that he is anything but a dangerously ignorant fool with no sign of a moral compass. Congressional flight, however, is more telling, highlighting one of the major challenges that faces the nascent movement to focus America on the carnage in its midst and to drive the political process to the measures required to effectively confront the guns and gun merchants most responsible for the carnage.
At the Washington march, I was in the crowd. What impressed me the most was that the young folks who organized and led the march seemed to understand that in America the gun control issue is a purely political issue, nothing more and nothing less.
There was an energy at the march that could move many in America to confront the status quo, confront the National Rifle Association (NRA), confront the Republican Party, and drive home the political message that the so-called “right to bear arms” is a pathetic substitute for hardcore gun control measures that will save human lives. (The march seemed to move retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens to suggest that repealing the Second Amendment was the surest way to clear the path to meaningful gun control.)
It’s Not a Mystery
Strong and meaningful measures to reverse the trajectory of gun violence in America are not a mystery, so grand policy debate is unnecessary: Ban the sale of assault weapons, automatic and semi-automatic weapons, large capacity magazines and ammunition that is designed for maximum destruction of human flesh. Then, for all sales of legal firearms, institute comprehensive and universal background checks with a significant waiting period between purchase and possession. Lastly, require federal registration of each firearm for every new purchase and every firearm now possessed.
With killing machines banned and universal background checks and a national gun registry in place, it will be possible to begin to confiscate illegal firearms and take all weapons from those who should not have them, subject to due process protections applicable across the board in America.
The last time I looked, automobile registration and the attendant insurance and inspection requirements haven’t dulled the enthusiasm for purchasing and responsible upkeep of automobiles in America or elsewhere. However, these requirements keep many dangerous cars off the road. Hunters can register their guns at the same time they register their cars and trucks, and off they go to bag a buck.
But lest you think that common sense will prevail, don’t bet on it. America is certainly the only nation on earth that specifically prohibits lawsuits against those who irresponsibly manufacture and distribute firearms, regardless of the number of lives taken and put at risk by the instruments of death that they produce and distribute.
Further, congressional and NRA resistance has blocked the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from studying the causes of gun violence and its prevention for over 20 years, leaving a critical vacuum of the hard data likely to define the epidemic of gun violence in America and guide meaningful policy response to that epidemic. Focus on this for a minute: The US Congress has legislated collective ignorance as an appropriate response to one massacre after another for over 20 years.
So kids, you have your work cut out for you. Those representatives and senators who fled from your march are responsible for much more than inaction in the face of your tragedy. Their legislative actions have specifically undermined America’s ability to understand the causes and cures for the gun violence that killed your friends and family members and have erected the legal barriers that allow the weapons that killed them to be recklessly manufactured and distributed to the gun nuts in your neighborhoods.
Making it Personal
As you try to sustain the momentum of the moment, stay focused on the political process and keep making it personal. I was a college student from 1963 to 1967 and a law student afterwards. I am a privileged white guy now and was a privileged white student then. I went to college at Duke University in North Carolina just as the civil rights movement was gaining confrontational strength and the attention that came with it. I tried hard to lend a voice and make a difference. Now, over 50 years later, America is still struggling to overcome its racist past and present to provide a meaningful foundation for social justice.
Contrast that with the movement to end the Vietnam War that actually accomplished its objective. What accounts for the difference in outcome? There are a lot of factors, but one that may transcend all others is that the anti-war movement became personal for privileged white young people who were protecting themselves from the tragedy of a war they were not willing to join. Privileged white me had something to lose: my life and limbs. When four white students were gunned down by National Guardsmen on the campus at Kent State University on May 4, 1970, during an anti-war protest, the political tide forever shifted, and the war’s end became politically inevitable.
Remember these lessons, and keep it personal. Keep exploiting the political power of white privilege in America. Then, work with others touched every day by gun violence to intelligently integrate the larger issue of racial justice into the fabric of the gun control message. Together you can win, and the nation will be so much better for it.
*[A version of this article was also featured on the author’s blog, Hard Left Turn.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.