In today’s hyper-partisan debate on gun reform, there seems to be only one consensus among conservatives and liberals: actually obtaining substantive national changes is near impossible.
After the Parkland shooting, pundits across the airwaves praised the students of Marjory Stoneman High School for their resolve to push for legislative action, while subtly, reminding Americans of the empirical challenges of legislative change (and the power of the National Rifle Association).
In many regards, the sentiment seemed to be clear: putting up a fight for political change would be fruitless, as evident by mass tragedies like Sandy Hook, Pulse and Las Vegas. After the shooting, an NPR reporter even remarked that the American gun debate was like having “a born-again Christian” and “avowed atheist” discussing the existence of Jesus Christ. In other words, finding “a baseline understanding” on guns is almost unimaginable.
But nevertheless, students from Marjory Stoneman (like David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez) have persisted ― organizing events, speaking to the media and vicariously advocating for state and national reform.
As a former Obama White House intern passionate about policy activism, I was inspired the fortitude of these high school students ― who like me, began to experience the normalization of mass shootings during their lifetimes.
For this reason (and because I refuse to accept the cynicism which often undergirds the gun debate), I joined approximately a million individuals around the United States for the March For Our Lives.
I walked alongside a friend in New York City, where I attend college. And while I was struck by the sheer volume of attendees, it was most compelling to see young people marching. Area high schools participated, millennials registered to vote and the social media conservation was dominated by hashtags like #EnoughisEnough.
Most compelling, however, was a brief moment that happened toward the end of the march. As watched hundreds chanting, I noticed a young child standing on the back of a guardian holding a homemade sign (strategically held up by an empty paper towel roll). Simple yet profound, the sign read “Protect kids, not guns.”
This child ― who was no more than ten ― highlighted an undeniable truth in my peer group: Generation Z and millennials have grown up with these tragedies and have a unique relationship to gun violence.
The analysis that followed the March for Our Lives asked an important question: Will this movement be sustainable? And perhaps most crucially, will this mobilization of Americans pay dividends during midterm and subsequent elections?
Nobody knows the answer to these questions. However, I can personally attest to the importance of maintaining optimism in a period of overt political cynicism on both sides.
I grew up with active shooter drills (called “Code Red” drills in my elementary school). When I hear students from Stoneman Douglas describe the horrific experience of cowering during a school shooting ― I am reminded of the reality that is gun violence. I am also reminded that I am no safer than I was a decade ago ― when I began practicing how to hide from dangerous individuals in a classroom setting.
Maybe no national policy change will come from the March For Our Lives. Maybe this movement ― as the pundits claim ― will “fade away.”
However, seeing thousands of people marching reminded me that no issue should be considered a non-starter in today’s political age. Even guns.