S. E. Williams
Saturday morning, citizens across the country gathered in solidarity and committed themselves to a higher cause—putting an end to gun violence in America. The desire and sense of urgency to stop the malicious slaughter on the country’s streets, in schools, nightclubs, concert venues, workplaces, shopping malls and homes has reached such a “state of emergency” many Americans are looking beyond differences in age, race, religion, socio-economic status—even politics—and instead, opting to come together as a magnified force for change.
Led by Parkland students, Americans’ demands for common sense gun legislation has a renewed sense of urgency now being fueled with the passion of youth. Those demands include a ban on semi-automatic weapons and high capacity magazines. The students and their supporters also want more expansive back ground checks, the age for purchasing a weapon raised from 18 to 21 years and a true investment in mental health services.
The usual “us against them” hot button issues typically pushed by politicians and pundits to keep people in their separate camps on this issue and that has worked so successfully for many years, may soon be turned on its head. Historically, it has served to neutralize resistance and in the process ceded control of this issue to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and politicians who take large contributions from the organization. In the process, these legislators (primarily Republicans but including some Democrats) have continued to do the NRA’s legislative bidding.
In the meantime, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 96 people are killed with guns every day in this country and massacres like the event in Parkland, Florida, are more frequent and are also becoming deadlier.
Saturday, it became profoundly apparent the old “tried and true manipulation of conversation” historically led by the NRA which has successfully muted any meaningful discussion to strengthen gun control legislation may finally be falling away.
In the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day that left 17 dead and several injured, a passion was ignited in many of the surviving students that something must change. Their passion was contagious. Young people all over the country and their supporters have responded to the Parkland call and joined the movement to break the control the NRA has over American politics and by proxy, American lives.
Parkland students and those who support them have vowed, “never again.” They proved Saturday, a willingness to stand, march and vote together, aligned in common cause and committed to wrench control of America’s legislative future from the hands of politicians who they say, are more concerned about doing the bidding of their NRA financial backers than protecting the lives of their constituents, the majority of whom are crying out for common sense gun control.
To this end, hundreds of thousands gathered at the seat of political power in Washington, D.C., while thousands of others gathered together in cities all over the country. The message was clear, “Vote them out.”
Nearly 800 rallies occurred all over the world in support of this effort. Inland Empire residents from both Riverside and San Bernardino Counties added their voices to this chorus and marched by the thousands at several sites across the region. As witnessed in Washington D.C., young people led the demonstrations locally and older members of the community joined them in support.
There were babies in strollers, toddlers teetering along and enthusiastic pre-teens on one end of the age spectrum; while elders marched, some stooped and slow, others with the aid of canes, walkers and wheelchairs, on the other end. In between these generational extremes were mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, friends, neighbors and thousands of local high school students—united in a common cause—putting an end to gun violence in America.
What appeared to move participants the most at every event were the personal testimonials shared by many of those who have lost loved ones to senseless acts of gun violence and the trauma, pain, fear and emptiness left in its wake.
Since the Parkland Valentine’s Day massacre and the attention received by its students in its wake, some though supportive of the efforts of the Parkland students, expressed sadness that efforts by Black and Brown teens who have raised their voices against gun violence for years, were usually marginalized and frequently challenged and criticized for their efforts—especially organizations like Black Lives Matter.
Yet, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School stood in the gap others have sought to exploit as a bridge. They acknowledged the nation’s failure in this regard and refused to be a part of this historical societal bias.
On Friday, one of Parkland’s more prominent student leaders, David Hogg, called out the media for, as he explained, “not giving Black students at the school [Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School] a voice. My school is about 25 percent Black,” Hogg insisted, “but the way we’re covered doesn’t reflect that.”
The Parkland students’ have sadly joined America’s unique club of traumatized gun violence survivors. Several Parkland students acknowledged the advantage their student body had in garnering the world’s attention, that minority communities do not have. “We recognize that Parkland received more attention because of its affluence,” Jaclyn Corin said to the gathered crowd. “But we share this stage today and forever with those communities who have always stared down the barrel of a gun.”
Their messages of inclusion resonated more profoundly when students impacted by gun violence from the nation’s Black and Brown communities joined Parkland students on stage and spoke eloquently about their own tragic experiences with gun violence and loss.
The national message of resistance and determination echoed in the streets of the Inland Empire from the desert communities of Indio and Rancho Mirage in the east to communities like Corona and Upland in the west.
Thousands of students from Riverside, Moreno Valley, and Corona high schools and their supporters gathered in downtown Riverside; hundreds gathered in San Bernardino to honor the lives of those lost and injured during the December 2, 2015, terrorist attack at the Inland Region Center; and, thousands of other students from across the Coachella Valley and their supporters gathered in Palm Springs.
Interestingly, nearly 19 years ago the Columbine massacre rocked the state of Colorado, the nation and the world when 15 people died (including the two gunmen) and 24 were injured; yet, it no longer rates among America’s ten deadliest massacres. Equally as concerning is three of the five deadliest attacks in the country occurred in the last year and a half.
More and more Americans are demanding stricter gun laws. An NPR poll taken after the Parkland massacre showed nearly 75 percent of respondents now favor enhanced gun control up from 68 percent who responded similarly following the nation’s deadliest massacre that occurred in Las Vegas last October. That event left 59 people dead and more than 520 injured.