“Prayers and condolences are no longer enough,” chanted students gathered in Raleigh to protest gun violence. Their message was clear: Our nation has seen too many incidents of school shootings and violence and too little has been done about it. Seventeen students from 17 different schools lit candles, spoke aloud the names of those killed, then the estimated 500 marched a mile and a half to place those candles on the steps of the state capitol.
After every incident like the Valentine’s Day massacre there are immediate cries for gun control, followed just as quickly by responses saying this time of mourning is no time to be discussing such things. But this time students are asking, “If not now, when?” They are hurt, angry, motivated and they are organized.
Author Malcolm Gladwell, in his book “The Tipping Point,” says that before an idea can “tip” into widespread acceptance it must reach a moment of critical mass, a threshold, a boiling point. It is too soon to tell but early signs indicate the anti-violence movement might reach that critical mass. Daily we are learning of students and parents around the country joining the effort. Cameron Kasky, one of the Parkland leaders, said on ABC, “This isn’t about the GOP. This isn’t about the Democrats. This is about the adults. We feel neglected and at this point, you’re either with us or against us.”
Students are taking control of the conversation and demanding action. Their plan is two-pronged. On March 14, the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting, every student, teacher and administrator in every school in the country is being asked to walk out of their schools for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. A “March for our Lives” will follow on March 24 in Washington or towns and cities across the land. The leaders intend to “shame” every politician who has accepted money from the National Rifle Association.
There is almost universal consensus that the NRA has impeded any reasonable discussions and actions regarding gun control. They pivot the conversation by saying that guns don’t kill people, people do. While true, there are too many who should not be allowed to own guns, especially the assault weapons so frequently used in these shootings. One sign at the Raleigh rally said, “Hey Tillis and Burr. If guns are not the problem then why is your office behind metal detectors?” For the record, Sen. Burr has received $6.99 million in contributions for the NRA, with Sen. Tillis recording $4.42 million.
But the NRA is only a symptom; the real problem is elected officials who don’t stand up to the intense lobbying efforts the group applies. Our elected representatives essentially are bought and paid for by such groups, neglecting the common good in favor of a loud few. Their immediate response when anyone suggests gun controls, tighter background checks or any restrictions is to claim the “boogeyman” wants to take your guns away from you. Now they’re claiming the students are “actors, working for anti-gun groups.”
Most of us steadfastly believe in a citizen’s right to bear arms, but also believe that doesn’t mean unlimited rights to anyone using any weapon. There must be a place where reasonable people, removed from the heated rhetoric, can come to some common-sense solutions that will make our schools and our people safer.
The spark has ignited the tender and the fire is lit. Time will tell whether or not it becomes a blazing fire that provokes a tipping point.
Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina State Treasurer and is creator/host of NC SPIN, a weekly statewide television discussion of N.C. issues airing on UNC-TV. Contact him at www.ncspin.com.