It is tragic and disgusting that they have lost the innocence of youthfulness. Not many of us who are not veterans of combat have any idea of what it is like to witness the wounding and killing of persons all around us. We do not know the terror created by the sound of bullets breaking glass and ricocheting off walls and floors accompanied by the screams, moans, and groans of wounded and dying classmates and friends. We cannot image what it was like to walk past the carnage of blood and death with your hands in the air escorted by police and other law enforcement officers clad in riot gear. We do not know what scars have been left on the minds and souls of the children, the youth of Parkland, Florida in the wake of the latest mass school shooting at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School. However, we do know that those who survived will not go away quietly.
They are children, young people but they have witnessed the horrific death of students and adults and they have said, “enough.” They are angry and have boldly declared that “thoughts and prayers” offered by politicians who refuse to address out of control gun violence is unacceptable. They have declared that the right to own guns should not trump their right to live. Most are too young to vote but they have declared their intent to change the way politicians and legislators respond to the death of innocent children whose only mistake was to go to school on a day when a person known to have had serious relational and disciplinary problems came to school with a semi-automatic weapon.
We have seen this anger before in the wake of school shootings. We have heard the pleas of grieving parents. We have witnessed the expressions of outrage and condolence offered by persons in positions of leadership. However, we have also seen the discussion of gun control and common sense legislation high jacked by gun lobbyists and the power of the NRA. We have observed politicians cower and redirect the conversation, more concerned about their re-election than the merits or morality of working to find ways to protect the legitimate rights of gun owners while also protecting our children and our communities from the mass murders we have seen too often.
The cycle of death, anger, words meant to console or appease and the defeat of any bill that seeks to ban assault rifles has been repeated so often that it is easy to conclude that the Parkland murders will not change anything. Yet, somehow there seems to be something different this time.
That difference is the youth, the children themselves who are demanding to be heard. What seems new is the fact that the children, the youth are using the technology that adults often claim is a sign of their “self-absorption” and detachment from the “real world” to connect to other youth, other children all across the country. What feels different is that the children seem determined to help the adults see the damage our lack of commitment has caused. Our youth, our children seen determined to change the conversation and remind us that they have a right to go to school without fearing that a gunman will keep them from coming home that night.
The children, the youth of Parkland have declared their commitment to have Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School to be the last school where a mass shooting takes place. Because we as adults have failed them, perhaps children will lead us as they did in Birmingham and Little Rock over fifty years ago.