Police tape marks a crime scene after the Stoneman Douglas school shooting Wednesday. See more photos from the response effort.EXPAND
Police tape marks a crime scene after the Stoneman Douglas school shooting Wednesday. See more photos from the response effort.
Ian Witlen

Why Aren't We Marching for Gun Reform?

After Donald Trump was elected to the presidency, Americans planned and executed one of the largest public demonstrations since the Vietnam War. When the White House tried to enforce a racist travel ban, Americans  gathered with signs and chants in airports. When unarmed people of color are murdered by police officers, Americans take to the streets. When Nazis gather to spread their ideology, citizens also unite to fight back.

But in the wake of yesterday's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history, the streets are silent. Why?

Contrary to what National Rifle Association trolls would have you believe, gun reform is an exceedingly popular idea. Most people, regardless of their party affiliation, would like to see tightened restrictions on guns. Your social media feeds are likely flooded with calls for sane reforms, policies that could have prevented Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old once deemed too threatening to carry a backpack in school, from legally obtaining an AR-15.

But your Facebook posts and Twitter threads mean exactly nothing to the politicians in power. If they did, those so-called leaders would have found solutions to close the loopholes through which mass murderers continue to acquire their weapons. It's not as if politicians haven't had plenty of opportunities. There have been more than 200 school shootings nationwide since 2014, a year after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. Stoneman Douglas is the 18th this year. And it's only February.

Many gun-reform advocates are rightly frustrated with Washington's lack of meaningful response to these tragedies. Politicians' thoughts and prayers are worth exactly nothing to the victims of these atrocities, to students who struggle to learn in an environment of fear, or to parents who worry their children might not come home from school.

But gun-reform supporters' responses to these tragedies haven't evolved either. And what they're doing isn't working.

Online speech can be powerful, but it's also easy to dismiss. Thousands of people vowing to vote someone out of office from the comfort of their office chairs isn't exactly threatening, especially to politicians paid by the NRA to write off their constituents' concerns.

But when people show up in person to demand action? That gets results.

Look at the GOP's attempted Obamacare-repeal efforts last year. Opponents showed up in droves, at town halls and outside legislators' offices, to protest being stripped of the health care they needed. And it worked: Many Republicans were convinced they couldn't support a repeal if they expected to keep their jobs, and the GOP didn't have the votes to repeal Obamacare in one fell swoop.

Public protests are also opportunities for participants to learn how to better achieve their goals. It takes an entire community to effectively apply pressure to politicians in special interests' pockets, and those communities are strengthened by face-to-face relationships, conversations with seasoned activists, and where-do-we-go-from-here brainstorming sessions.

If shootings continue at this rate for the rest of 2018, there'll be more than 100 more gun tragedies in our schools between now and the midterm elections. American children cannot afford to wait that long. The responsibility to keep them safe lies with all of us. It's time to organize, to evolve gun reform beyond a mere policy issue and into a movement. It's time to march.

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