US students to march for their lives

Thousands of American students take to the streets across the US this Saturday, March 24, to demand tighter gun controls.

The March for Our Lives is part of a groundswell, led by the country’s youth, expressing revulsion at US gun culture and the death toll it exacts on innocent citizens.

The wave of protest and activism was sparked by the murder of 17 people – 14 of them children – at a Florida high school on February 14 by a shooter armed with a military-style automatic weapon. That was just the latest in 52 years of gun massacres in the US. [Hatch has compiled a timeline of the worst shootings. Read it here.]

The free availability of guns, especially assault rifles, in the US is at the heart of the debate about gun control. America has spent decades discussing gun laws, but rarely taken concrete steps to cut gun numbers.

Everytown, a gun safety lobbyist, tallies the number of accidental shootings in the US every year “where a person age 17 or under unintentionally kills or injures themselves or someone else with a gun”. The 2017 figure was at least 285 documented cases, of which 83 involved a child 4 or under.  The 2018 tally to date is 52.

For years, attempts to tighten control have been thwarted by militant supporters of the National Rifle Association. The NRA, which clings to a liberal interpretation of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution (addressing “the right to bear arms”), funds politicians who push its case at state and national levels. [Read a summary of the NRA’s rise to powerful lobby group.]

A 17-minute national schools walkout was held last week, and a follow-up full day walkout and protest is scheduled for April 20. That’s the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High shooting that claimed 15 lives, one of the best known of the shootings that has racked US schools and colleges, thanks to the Michael Moore movie Bowling for Columbine.

march for our lives March 24.
march for our lives March 24.

The protests – and the teens leading them – are shaping up as a significant force for change in the US, spearheading a movement likened by many to the civil rights movement of the ’60s and the anti-war protests that helped bring about Washington’s withdrawal from the Vietnam conflict in 1975.

They’ve won support from many public figures, among them George and Amal Clooney who pledged $500,000 to help them mobilise and organise. That donation was swiftly matched by Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg. Thousands of parents and sympathisers will march alongside the students across the country.

International revulsion at the slaughter and the US establishment’s reluctance to change notoriously lax gun laws will see marches around the world in sympathy with the student protests.

In organising the protests, several students, most notably leaders and survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas School, the scene of the February 14 massacre, have become national figures, winning praise from around the country, and the world, for their passion, eloquence and advocacy.

Emma Gonzalez (@Emma4Change) captured the public eye during a speech in Fort Lauderdale where she said “The people in the government who are voted into power are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and are prepared to call BS.”

David Hogg (@davidhogg111) sprang to attention through his calm but powerful interviews after the shooting, and then his unflinching rebuke to President Trump for his apologist approach to the NRA: “You’re supposed to bring this nation together, not divide us … How dare you.” His impact is significant, spurring rightwing commentators to denounce him as a “shill” and a “pawn for anti-Trump rhetoric and anti-gun legislation”.

Ryan Deitsch (@Ryan_Deitsch) tweeted live from inside the school as students were being shot at, showing the world as students fled for their lives and sought shelter behind overturned desks in classrooms. He’s been an outspoken critic of legislators who stall rather than solve the gun problem. “The more they don’t act, the more they don’t deserve to be in office.”

Sarah Chadwick (@Sarahchadwickk), who, incensed by this sanctimonious tweet from Mr Trump

Trump's tweet after the Stoneman Douglas school shooting. Feb 14, 2018

replied: “I don’t want your condolences you fucking piece of shit, my friends and teachers were shot. Multiple of my fellow classmates are dead. Do something instead of sending prayers. Prayers won’t fix this. But Gun control will prevent it from happening again.”

(That Twitter account is now private)

Cameron Kasky (@cameron_kasky) made gun apologist Senator Marco Rubio look like a callous politician at a public meeting Rubio attended to offer his sympathy – but no support for gun control.

“Senator Rubio, will you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA?” Kasky asked.

Rubio dithered, refusing to offer a clear answer.

“In the name of 17 people, you cannot ask the NRA to keep their money out of your campaign?” Kasky responded.

The website for Saturday’s March for Our Lives protest lists (at last count) 834 events around the world at which sympathisers can demonstrate their solidarity with the survivors and families of America’s school shootings victims.

There are marches at 10am Saturday in Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney. For details visit the site and enter your location.

There is also a Twitter Q&A you can join today, Friday March 23. Search #askMSDStudents from 11am to noon Sydney and Melbourne time.

Researched and compiled by Zoe Delaney Grech and Kate Buxton. Edited by Tony Kleu.