United States: High school students won’t be silenced on gun law reform

17-year-old Gwendolyn Frantz of Kensington, Maryland, stands in front of the White House during a student protest for gun control on February 21, in Washington, DC.

The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, United States, on February 14 that left 17 killed and 14 injured was the 18th school shooting in the US this year.

What has made this shooting different was not only its violence but the unprecedented response to it, largely led by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students.

As is generally the case after mass shootings, there is a short period of “thoughts and prayers” and some murmurings about gun law reform.

This time, the survivors of the shooting are refusing to let the issue go off the agenda.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas students are taking on the National Rifle Association (NRA), elected representatives and President Donald Trump in an unprecedented campaign. There have been high school walk-outs, lie-ins and protests targeting the White House.

In interview after interview, these students have stated bluntly that they are coming after any elected representative who continues to take money from the NRA.

It is not just students who survived this most recent attack who are getting involved in the marches. They may be the face of the campaign, but the demands for gun law reform and safety at school have resonated with high school students from Cape Cod to California.

A March For Our Lives rally has been organised for March 24, where organisers hope to attract half-a-million people to march on Washington.

More than 50 solidarity marches have been organised around the country to take place on the same date, with the New York march attracting more than 40,000 registrations alone.

Trump’s response to this, after meeting with survivors and family members of those who had been killed in the latest shooting, is to suggest that teachers be armed.

Students and teachers have loudly condemned this “solution” — instead calling for a ban on selling semi-automatic weapons to civilians and better screening processes for gun owners.

Perhaps for the first time, there may be enough momentum to achieve significant gun law reform. This poses the question, why is it the 18th shooting this year that has triggered this response?

Why not Columbine in 1999 or the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012?

The response to this most recent tragedy needs to be put in the context of wider political polarisation both in the US and globally. In recent years, we have seen the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Women’s Marches and the #MeToo campaign.

We’ve also seen the far right emboldened, which resulted in the death of one anti-fascist activist after protests in Charlottesville in 2017.

It is in this context that these high school students are starting to learn that collective grassroots action and movement building is what is needed to challenge the status quo.

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