On Saturday, March 24, a mass of demonstrators flooded Washington D.C. An estimated one-hundred and eighty thousand students, parents, teachers and others marched for gun control laws. The movement, which has come to be known as “March for Our Lives,” has quickly risen to national significance to students, as well as politicians.
The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, occurred on February 14, 2018. Since the day of that tragic event, students have been organizing rallies and protests, catalyzing one of the largest and most effective gun control movements in America.
Carol Williams, a volunteer at the event in Washington, said, “These Parkland students have already been able to make change that no one else could for decades.”
Such sentiments certainly seem to hold as national considerations on gun control are scrutinized more heavily. Particularly, two recent legislative moves have appeared, seemingly following national dissent: a new spending bill signed on March 23 by President Donald Trump and a push by the Department of Justice to ban bump stocks.
Such measures are, however, not enough according to members of the “March for Our Lives.” The organization’s website maps out its practical and ideological goals.
The mission statement of the group, published on its website (marchforourlives.com) reads, “The mission and focus of March For Our Lives is to assure that no special interest group or political agenda is more critical than timely passage of legislation to effectively address the gun violence issues that are rampant in our country. We demand morally-just leaders to rise up from both parties in order to ensure public safety.”
On a more practical level, the mission statement also maps a strategy for this lofty goal, including universal comprehensive background checks, funding government research on the “gun violence epidemic in America,” and a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
The rally in Washington D.C. has been praised predominantly by the left wing, many students, and those who have experienced gun violence in the past for its perpetuation of these goals and ideas. However, perhaps the most unique aspect about the rally was its rhetoric, which strayed from typical understandings of anti-gun arguments.
In an interview with NRP, Peter Loge, a professor at George Washington University, expanded on this rhetorical reframing. Loge said, “Guns are about personal identity, big business, school safety, hunting… But the March For Our Lives was different. It had children standing up for their own lives.”
This emphasis on human life, rather than political or personal liberty is at the heart of the “March.”
Alex Wind, seventeen years old, is a junior at Parkland. He phrased the urgency of human lives with severity in a speech at the rally. Wind said, “If you have not expressed to your constituents a public stance on this issue, you have chosen death. If you do not stand with us by saying we need to pass common sense gun legislation, you have chosen death. And none of the millions of people marching in this country today will stop until they see those against us out of office, because we choose life.”
Students at the rally also emphasized the upcoming midterm elections as a crucial turning point for the debate in America. Members of the organization posted themselves on street corners throughout Washington, urging passerbys to register to vote. They were adorned with bright yellow shirts reading, “Register to vote!”
Signs at the rally displayed the various sentiments of individuals involved in education. One sign read, “As a teacher, I want peace, not a piece,” displaying the circular peace sign next to a gun. Another sign from a student said, “My life is more valuable than your hobby.” Other signs criticized Trump’s administration for its lack of action on the subject. A bright yellow sign said, “Children acting like leaders, leaders acting like children.”
Though acceptance of the movement has been predominantly positive by many Americans (with around eight hundred rallies being held across the nation), there are some citizens perceiving the movement as a threat to certain American rights.
On the same day as the “March for Our Lives,” various pro-gun rallies were held across the nation to promote a different message. Demonstrators of these rallies hoisted signs with different messages. For example, one teacher in Salt Lake City carried a sign which read, “It’s my right to defend my students.”
The mantra of this sect of the gun rights issue has been “SHOOT BACK.” Such sentiments come, as demonstrators would argue, from a place of patriotism. For many in the pro-gun rallies, the right to bear arms is essentially American. The removal of such a right is the product of, as one demonstrator called it, “Ignorant sheep who are being spoon-fed by liberal teachers.”
As the issue continues to polarize Americans, the future of gun laws remains unsure. Though the Department of Justice has proposed a ban of bumpstocks, this motion has not yet been acted upon. The changing of such laws is, however, a difficult battle given President Trump’s aversion to the banning of weapons, and the strong support of the N.R.A. by many Republican politicians.
In any case, the demonstrations and rallies in Washington D.C. and across the nation signify the students of Parkland, as well as many other students and teachers, will continue to fight for such regulations. After the demonstrations on March 24, the “March for Our Lives” website said, “We will not stop our advocacy until we see the change we demand – a change that is necessary in order to save innocent lives across our nation.”