March for Our Lives Mar. 24, 2018

People from all over the U.S. come to Washington, D.C., to participate in the March for Our Lives to protest gun violence, March 24, 2018.

Monday, March 12

On the heels of the devastating attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, something special happened. The students of the school used their newfound national platform to increase awareness on gun violence and push lawmakers to pass legislation that will work to ensure that these attacks never happen again. In the wake of tragedy, these brave students have created a moment — a time when real change can be had.

But these moments can be fleeting. Too often people fail to grasp this time for change, and the issue falls to the wayside, only supported by small, niche protests and petitions after the fact. By then many people will no longer care. It’s not only a good choice, but a responsibility for anyone who cares about the issue of gun violence to seize this moment.

Wednesday, March 14

Earlier this morning, high school students across the country walked out of school to raise awareness for gun control legislation. I caught up with a friend of mine, Ashley Lin, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria. She self-identifies as being pro-gun control.

She described her school as “liberal-leaning,” but also generally “apathetic” toward politics, saying that her school is “only active when something like (the Parkland shooting) happens.”

I asked Lin when she thought this apathy would return.

“In a week or two.”

Tuesday, March 20

There was a shooting at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, this morning. I don’t have much to say about it. We’re living in an age when a school shooting can get lost in the shuffle. This shooting, as tragic as it was, is just business as usual these days. In a week’s time, I doubt it’ll be remembered.

Friday, March 23

My friend and I are watching “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” waiting for our other friend to come back from her exam. The three of us are about to drive up to D.C. to go to the rally together. One of my friends has been to rallies before and is very politically active — she’s in her element. The other friend hasn’t been as involved, but she’s always wanted to. I, on the other hand, have never been that type. Politically inclined? Sure, but not the type to go to these rallies.

I’m going for my family. My mom is one of the biggest gun control advocates I know. She wants Japanese gun laws here in America. Her reasoning: You can stab people with knives, but you can’t kill tens of people in seconds with knives. My family closed its small business we operate for the day, so we can all be there.

I’m going for the 32 who died in Blacksburg, on our campus, on April 16, 2007. A lot of people point to Columbine as the beginning of the modern era of school shootings. But, I think the start of this school shooting era began closer to home. The Virginia Tech shooting was one of the first major mass shootings in the age of widespread cell phone use. Years ago, when I worked as a tour guide for the Newseum, I would always point out an artifact from the shooting featured in our Bloomberg Internet, TV and Radio Gallery. It was a cell phone someone used to film the scene in Blacksburg during the shooting.

In this time of mass communication we find ourselves in, shootings become national news in the blink of an eye. But over the last few years we’ve become desensitized. As more and more of these stories are reported, they become yesterday’s news quicker than you can say, “mass shooting.” Nothing of substance has really been done by government to curb these events. Since the Virginia Tech shooting became the deadliest mass shooting in history, that record has been broken twice. People don’t think about that enough.

Saturday, March 24

Springfield is an interesting place. There are a lot of government workers and military personnel in the area, and compared to areas like Arlington and Alexandria, there are quite a few conservatives to balance out the political spectrum. In fact, prior to the last state election cycle, Dave Albo (R-42) represented much of the area in the House of Delegates. Gun ownership wasn’t uncommon, and I grew up with many conservative friends. Even as a left-leaning individual, by the time I walked into my almost completely liberal high school, that took students from all over the county, it was a bit off-putting, though, the conservatives at my high school tended to be very conservative among a sea of blue. I guess that’s how firebrands are born.

You might be wondering about my beliefs on gun legislation. The truth is, I’m nearly as extreme to the left as my mother on the issue. I don’t interpret the Second Amendment as allowing for assault weapons, especially considering the historical context in which it was written. I believe there should be an assault weapons ban, on both automatic and semi-automatic rifles. Throwing party-line views like closing the gun-show loophole and improving background checks for purchasing a weapon, and my stance on the issue is quite clear: pro-gun control.

Though I’m no firebrand, and I identify as more moderate than most young liberals. Some close friends of mine are gun owners and at least one that I know of is a member of the NRA. My grandfather was an Army colonel and a member of the NRA. I have close family members who own weapons. Some people just feel safer with a gun, and I can sympathize with that. No one can really argue with someone’s perception of their safety because it’s so personal. There are a lot of situations where I, along with many of my brethren on the left, probably would feel safer when armed too. That’s part of what makes this so difficult.

But when school shootings and mass shootings in general become so frequent, and so normalized, in a society, we have to acknowledge that there is a problem. Even when weighing personal safety into the equation, I find it very hard to believe that one would need a semi-automatic assault rifle to feel secure in their person. Awareness of one’s surroundings and instinctual self-preservation is one thing. Paranoia is another. The law does not protect the paranoid from the seeds of their own minds.

By the time I got home, my whole family was already asleep. Even the dogs were too tired to see who was at the door (some guard dogs they’d be). So I sat on the couch and turned on the television, too tired to move but a bit too wired to go to sleep right away. I sat and thought about the rally, and what it could stand for. I wondered if it would actually change anything. And though I do tend to be the skeptical type, I was hopeful that this time, the time would be right — that the Parkland survivors had seized an opportunity to turn their horrific tragedy into real, positive change and save future lives in the process.

I guess in the end, all we can do is hope. But I’m excited for the day to come, and even more so, to eventually see the fruits of all this labor in legislation. We’ll just have to see.

Monday, March 26

I’m back in Blacksburg now, and everything feels the same. I was back to laughing with my friends. But before I let myself slide back into the normal routine, I wanted to reflect a bit.

The March for Our Lives was incredibly moving. There were so many people there to show support that I couldn’t even see where the stage was. For all the worry I may have had about counter-protests, I saw maybe 15 pro-gun protesters. Even though I’m not one to show too much emotion, behind my stone face, there were times when it really got to me. There were families carrying pictures of their children who had died in school shootings, many of whom would be younger than me if they were alive today. The speakers were truly amazing. All of them showed such poise, in the face of both tragedy and political scrutiny.

The final speaker was Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who gained worldwide recognition for her “We call B.S.” speech after the attack on her school that killed 17 of her classmates. She began speaking, but all of a sudden, she went silent. For the next few minutes, she looked out at the crowd saying nothing. I had no idea what was happening and didn’t know how to react. Then she spoke again. She had remained silent long enough for her speech to be six minutes long — the length of the attack on her school. Six minutes might not seem like a long time, but in the time that she stayed silent — like how the students in the school may have felt — it felt like an eternity. People all around me were crying, or at least tearing up. If substantive gun control comes from all this, Gonzalez’s silence will go down as an iconic moment in history.

There were a lot of signs at the march — some humorous and some that were more earnest. As I made my way through the crowd, one, in particular, caught my eye. It was black and red with two handprints in the middle and white text that read, “Our Blood, Your Hands.” As such a simple statement, it carried so much power with the image it conjured.

After the rally I found the woman holding the sign, and she actually turned out to be an old friend, Yukta Chidanandan.

“I marched for my 10-year-old sister,” she said. Unlike my friend, her sister has many years to go in the education system. I remember someone told me once that our generation’s defining social events were school shootings. Chidanandan doesn’t want that to be true of her sister’s generation.

I asked Chidanandan what effect she thought the march would have.

“It is forcing (young people) to actually take notice of the problem,” she said. “I have friends who are registering to vote just to make sure the NRA stays out of Congress.”

If that’s a widespread effect of what transpired on Saturday, people actually showing up to the ballot box, then the March for Our Lives can be called a resounding success. We’ll know come November.

Tuesday, March 27

After a day of classes, I’m back in my routine. I think that’s true for most people who were in D.C. on Saturday. The monotony of life almost always wins these battles.

We won’t know the effect of these events for a while. Whether it’s through legal reform or elections, none of that will come until later. The NRA will have time to regroup. The strength of these movements does not lie in its immediate passion, but rather in its staying power. Many movements in the past have marched on Washington, caused a commotion and made everyone take a look, without causing a true paradigm shift.

If you were to ask me if I think a paradigm shift will occur, I would say I have no idea. But, I do think that more than any other gun-control movement, these students have given themselves the best chance. They’ve challenged politicians directly and have taken criticisms from the NRA and people on the right with strength and poise. They aren’t allowing anyone else to shape the narrative for them. We must hope that continues.

But for now, I guess life really is back to normal. Let’s just hope that normal isn’t what it once was.

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