America needs to listen to Florida students calling for gun reform

In Opinion

“Was the blood of my classmates and my teachers worth your blood money?” said Michelle Lapidot, a freshman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Lapidot was one of several students at a CNN hosted town hall reviewing gun control Wednesday, along with those who survived the mass shooting on Feb. 14 when a gunman killed 17 people.

Like most protests in U.S. history, young people are at the forefront of the conversation, speaking up and speaking loud — and right now America needs to listen and take action.

Since the mass shooting in Parkland, student survivors have been launched into the national spotlight and have opened a serious dialogue on gun reform. In just 10 days, they confronted state legislators through tweets and live debates, called for a national school walkout day and organized a march on Washington with demands for tougher gun control laws.

The stereotypical angst and emotion so familiar to adolescents is not what limits their ability to lead movements; it fuels their defiance to challenge the people and institutions that have sworn to protect them. When speaking live on television to politicians, the Parkland students did not cower in fear or hesitate. They spoke with bold conviction.

“All these people should be at home grieving. But instead we are up here standing together because if all our government and our president can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see,” said Emma Gonzalez, senior at the high school.

Though this endeavor is inspiring, it can’t be just the survivors’ burden to repair a broken system. It’s the responsibility of those elected in office to listen and engage with their constituents, which includes the young people who will inevitably lead the nation.

But, as Trevor Noah said on “The Daily Show” last week, “Right now, kids are acting like adults and adults are acting like children.”

After the televised town hall, Bill O’Reilly tweeted, “The big question is: should media be promoting opinions by teenagers who are in an emotional state and facing extreme peer pressure in some cases?”

O’Reilly’s message is condescending and an insult to the survivors. He belittles the students’ emotional state on the basis that they are unreliable teenagers. What purpose does it serve to censor or suppress grief and outrage that is rightfully voiced?

Most of the Parkland students speaking out about gun reform are not yet old enough to vote. When they finally do reach the voting age of 18, they will also be eligible to purchase a firearm in Florida.

There have been nearly 300 school shootings since 2013, and 18 of them occurred in 2018 alone, according to Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, which hopes to represent an accurate portrayal of gun violence. Despite all those who have spoken up on gun reform in the past, in both eloquence and in anger, legislators have failed to take any notice or action.

It is important to remember that the student outrage, in this case, isn’t any more unique than those before them. Those who are speaking up now follow in the footsteps of young people throughout history who have mobilized against injustice.

During the civil rights movement, thousands of young African-Americans protested against segregation in a series of marches known as the Birmingham children’s crusade. The demonstrations made national news, and local newspapers reported police officers blasting children with fire hoses and police dogs attacking the crowd.

More recently, young activists have been at the front lines of protests such as Black Lives Matter, the Dakota Access Pipeline and the fight to protect Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. They are vocal and quick to organize, not only because social media helps empower their cause, but because they are desperately fighting to protect their future.

Young people prove time and time again that they are willing to have difficult conversations about the future of the country. They say what they mean and don’t hold anything back.

Their fearlessness echoes from the past and will continue into the future. Those on the sidelines must listen, learn and take meaningful action against gun violence. If teenagers have the courage to step up when it truly matters, why can’t supposedly responsible adults do the same?

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