Editorial: Students raise their voices on school gun violence

Within hours of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., students who had seen their friends gunned down began demanding change. These students’ voices, which have the earmarks of a budding national movement, may very well herald the start of the kind of discussion that must happen in America about the “right” to own military-style firearms, and gun control in general. 

Last Wednesday, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who had legally purchased an AR-15 despite serious mental health issues, massacred 17 people at the high school and wounded at least 14 others. The rapid explosion of semi-automatic gunfire recorded by students’ cellphones during the slaughter reminded us of battle footage from the Vietnam War. This was a suburban American high school, filled with teenagers pursuing an education.

Here on the North Fork, its normal to hear a shotgun blast during duck hunting season. For those who hunt our fields and creeks, it is a privilege to be outdoors. There is nothing at all normal about selling a semi-automatic weapon designed for the military as if it were a piece of hardware routinely used by hunters.

The AR-15 has only a military use and its purchase by civilians should be banned. It is a weapon of mass destruction suitable for war. That a teenager who could not legally buy a six-pack of beer in Florida – or, more to the point, a pistol – could legally buy an AR-15 and hundreds of rounds of ammunition boggles the mind. What kind of society would allow that?

The rising movement that began with students at Parkland has already begun to change the discussion in this country as we wrestle with this simple truth: There has been about one school shooting a week since the beginning of the year in which teachers or students were targeted.

This movement has come to Southold. A peaceful event is planned in Southold for Friday, April 20, led by high school students. It will start at the high school at 10 a.m. with a moment of silence. Students have set up an Instagram page in support of this event: @walkout_southold.

Look back just a few months to Oct. 1, when a gunman opened fire from his room in a Las Vegas hotel and fired more than 1,100 rounds into a crowd of concert goers, killing 58 and wounding hundreds more. That gunman equipped his semi-automatic rifle with a bump stock so he could fire at the rate of a fully automatic weapon. There was a lot of talk about banning such weapons after that slaughter. Nothing came of it — not even an across-the-board ban on bump stocks.

The protests held in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting are taking on a very different feel, and have caught the attention of politicians nationwide. One survivor summed up the growing sentiment among students on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “We’re marching because it’s not just schools. It’s movie theaters, it’s concerts, it’s nightclubs. This kind of stuff just can’t happen. You know, we are marching for our lives, we’re marching for the 17 lives we lost. And we’re marching for our children’s lives and our children’s children and their children.”

Another articulate student said this: “Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have ever been done to prevent this, we call BS. They say that tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS …”

In Florida, where Sen. Marco Rubio has an A+ rating from the NRA, the mood has abruptly shifted. Mr. Rubio said a task force should be created to examine the “epidemic” of mass shooting. He said he now favors expanded background checks, a “restraining order” that would remove weapons from those accused of domestic violence, and other measures. This is a sea change.

Will other politicians follow suit? Will Long Island’s congressional representatives stand up and be counted? Those of us who send our children to public schools can only hope so.

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