EDITORIAL: Inspiring youth can compel real change

York Dispatch
Hundreds gather during March For Our Lives, a rally to end gun violence, in York City, Saturday, March 24, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

From Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles to East Market Street in York, school students and their supporters turned out by the hundreds of thousands on Saturday to call for a change in the way Americans — and, especially, their elected officials — think about gun violence.

More:'No more silence': York marches against gun violence

The show of support was not just national, but global, with demonstrators filling the streets in cities such as London, Sydney and Tokyo.

That this massive display of unity was organized, inspired and led largely by teenagers is as impressive as it is inspiring. The challenge now is for this new generation of change-seekers to keep up pressure on those in office to enact the type of common-sense gun laws that can reduce all-too-common mass-casualty shootings.

It won’t be easy.

Never mind the ingrained opposition to even mild gun-safety laws among many on the right. Already, NRA-supporting propagandists have tried to make the case that the students who survived the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, are being led by adult gun opponents or, more ludicrously, are paid actors. Already, the leading voices for change are targets for recrimination and ridicule on social media. Already, Photoshopped phoniness is among the tools being used to tarnish the teens.

And yet they persist.

The most impressive voices at Saturday’s March for Our Lives rally in the nation’s capital were those of students barely — or not yet — old enough to vote. Stoneman Douglas shooting survivor and march organizer Emma Gonzalez’s silent protest spoke volumes. And 11-year-old Naomi Wadler’s plea not to forget the young women of color disproportionately lost to gun violence was stunning.

No less an influential figure that Pope Francis referenced the movement in a Palm Sunday message, urging young people to keep the calls for progress coming,

Such voices must continue to be heard, because already, in the six short weeks since the Valentine’s Day attack in Florida, they are effecting change:

  • Rhode Island has instituted a so-called “red flag” initiative intended to keep guns from those who pose a threat to themselves or others.
  • Florida, long a laboratory for NRA-friendly legislation, passed new reforms including raising the minimum age to buy a rifle from 18 to 21 and instituting a three-day waiting period for gun purchases.
  • Washington state has banned bump stocks, the devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire like machine guns that were used in the October mass shooting in Las Vegas.
  • President Donald Trump has directed the Department of Justice to begin the work of banning bump stocks nationwide.
  • A measure to improve federal background checks on gun sales was included in the spending bill passed by Congress and signed by Trump last week. The bill also included $50 million in annual grants for school-safety initiatives.
  • In Pennsylvania, a measure that would force people facing domestic violence charges to forfeit their firearms was passed unanimously in the state Senate. House members must now vote likewise.

Many of these measures may be baby steps on the road to reducing gun violence, but they are nonetheless steps in the right direction. After years of heinous assaults on schoolchildren, from Columbine to Sandy Hook, being met by legislative shoulder shrugs (to say nothing of the explosions of deadly gun violence in movie theaters, nightclubs, concert venues, churches, softball fields and elsewhere), the apparent change in the direction of gun laws cannot be overstated.

The voices that cried out for change Saturday must be supported and magnified.

More:Heartbroken by gun violence: Rallies across US demand change

The changes they have started — not only in terms of laws regarding guns, but attitudes — must continue.

After all, as Dover Area High School junior Nico Shearer pointed out from amid the crowd on East Market Street Saturday, “Any school could be next.”