Youth and adults alike are demanding an end to the carnage caused by firearms. Yet can they turn their hopes into political reality?
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Students from Florida to Chicago started streaming out of their schools April 20 in the latest round of gun-control activism following the February shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. Organizers said there will be walkouts in every state.
The protests were chosen to line up with the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, which left 13 people dead in Littleton, Colorado. At 10 a.m. in each time zone, students at dozens of schools left class to take moments of silence honoring the victims at Columbine and other shootings.
From there, some students headed to rallies at their statehouses. Others stayed at school to discuss gun violence. Some are holding voting registration drives.
During the past two months, young people have walked out, marched and demanded action across America in an effort to stop gun violence.
But it is far from certain that the young people involved in the “March for Our Lives” movement will be a political force at the ballot box this fall.
Republicans are skeptical. Democrats are hopeful. And outside groups that favor gun control are not taking any chances.
Organizations aligned with Democrats on gun control are spending tens of millions of dollars to ensure that young voters’ passion and enthusiasm does not fade before the November midterm elections, when the Republican Party’s control of Congress will be put to the test.
“Other people look at those young people and think organizing them makes no sense because they don’t vote,” said Tom Steyer, the billionaire hedge-fund magnate-turned-liberal activist who has committed at least $31 million this year to what is believed to be the largest youth vote organizing effort in American history. “We really believe in this generation.”
Past voting patterns show how much work Mr. Steyer and others have ahead of them. Just 15 percent of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 20 cast ballots in the last midterm election. If the age range is expanded to between 18 and 29, the average midterm rate is no higher than 21 percent—36 percent lower than the overall average—the Cooperative Congressional Election Study found.
Is there any hope that young voters can turn the political tide and succeed in getting the U.S. government to change gun laws in an attempt to curb violence?
The difficulty in rallying the youth to vote is nothing new. During the Vietnam War-era draft, just 54 percent of Baby Boomers voted in the 1972 presidential election. That is just four points higher than the 50 percent voting rate for Millennials in 2016.
The Economist explained a common reason younger generations do not vote as widely. It stated that “young people today do not feel they have much of a stake in society. Having children and owning property gives you a direct interest in how schools and hospitals are run, and whether parks and libraries are maintained. But if they settle down at all, young people are waiting ever longer to do it. In 1970 the average American woman was not yet 21 years old when she first married, with children and home ownership quickly following. Today women marry at 26 on average, if they marry at all, and are likely to want a career as well as children. People who have not settled down are not much affected by political decisions, and their transient lifestyles can also make it difficult to vote.”
Yet there is a problem seeing “March for Our Lives” as a purely youth-driven movement, though there are vocal young adults involved.
Look at the demographics of the crowd for the March 24 protest against gun violence in Washington, D.C., which drew anywhere from 200,000 to 800,000 people. According to The Washington Post: “Contrary to what’s been reported in many media accounts, the D.C. March for Our Lives crowd was not primarily made up of teenagers. Only about 10 percent of the participants were under 18.”
It continued, stating that the “average age of the adults in the crowd was just under 49 years old.”
Organizations will pump millions into rallying the youth vote, yet history is not on their side. So what about the protests themselves? Can they bring true legislative change?
Again, history tells a cynical story.
Back in 2000, about 750,000 people swarmed the capital for the biggest gun control rally in the nation’s history. It was in the wake of Colorado’s horrific Columbine massacre, during which 12 high school students and one teacher were shot dead by two teenagers wielding shotguns, handguns and numerous explosives.
That protest, dubbed the “Million Mom March,” had a similar demographic makeup to “March for Our Lives.” Yet most today do not even remember this event took place—let alone see it as the birth of any movement. There has been minimal change to gun laws in the nearly two decades since.
Take a step back from the heated political vitriol. Despite the narratives painted in the media, no one actually wants gun violence. No one wants mass murder. No one wants to see young lives snuffed out in schools.
If we all agree that violence must be stopped, then why can we seemingly do nothing about it?
Change is far more complicated than most realize. Even the U.S. president, a political outsider who was moved by the Parkland, Florida, school shooting to push for sweeping changes in gun laws, quickly settled for more modest changes proposed by Congress after lacking political support.
Other suggestions for gun control show the difficulty lawmakers face in resolving the issues.
Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens called for a repeal of the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which grants the “right of the people to keep and bear arms.” Many of those in the public rallied around this demand.
A pro-repeal writer described an America without the Second Amendment in Observer: “Without federal constitutional protection, states would be free to decide for themselves what restrictions, if any, to place on gun ownership. Less populated states would be free to have liberal gun ownership, including the right to carry. More populated states would be free to create more rigid restrictions on gun ownership and even ban guns completely.”
The results seem to cater to both sides of the debate. But it is highly unlikely that the amendment would be repealed. As NPR put it, “The Founding Fathers were willing to be edited, it seems, but they did not want it to be easy. So they made the amending process a steep uphill climb, requiring clear national consensus to succeed,” including an unlikely two-thirds majority in the House and Senate and three-quarters majority among states.
Yet focusing on repealing the amendment may be misguided. “What neither side in the gun debate seems to realize is that at the moment, when it comes to the sort of restrictions that lie within the zone of possibility, the Second Amendment is neither an obstacle nor a protection,” The Chicago Tribune reported. In other words, the same legislation could be accomplished with or without the Second Amendment in place.
Another proposition is for every last person to give up their guns—lock, stock and barrel. Take weapons out of the equation, the thinking goes, and there is very little chance of a shooting occurring.
Australia’s gun buyback programs are a successful example of this. After the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre, when a gunman killed 35 people, the federal government offered to purchase guns that had been declared illegal from firearms owners. In all, more than 660,000 firearms were returned. National suicide and homicide statistics declined since then.
Many point to this as a model for the United States. Again, it sounds simple before considering that American states have already hosted gun buybacks. The first—a two-month program in 1974 in Baltimore, Maryland—did not achieve its intended effect. Already high rates of gun homicides and attacks in the city actually increased during the two months.
More recent gun retrieval efforts have been more localized in cities such as Camden, New Jersey, and Detroit, Michigan, in attempts to curb violence in those cities. Yet the number of weapons taken in were nominal and did not affect gun-related violence statistics.
An Australian opinion writer explained in The New York Times the different psyches of Australians and Americans when it comes to gun ownership: “We never had a revolution. We never fought foreign troops on our soil. There was no antipodean civil war. From the moment the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay in 1788 in what is now Sydney, security was provided by the British Army.”
Americans, on the other hand, have had to rely on weapons to defend themselves through the separation from England, early foreign invasions, and the Civil War. These historical experiences still stand as evidence to today’s citizens that they need weapons to protect their nation, their families, themselves.
The New York Times continued: “In the United States, even if…political opposition could be overcome, such widespread appropriation of private property and limits on personal liberties would most likely be met with fierce, even physical, resistance.”
Gun violence is a real problem in the United States. Out of 195 countries, the U.S. has the 31st highest rate of deaths by gun violence at 3.85 deaths per 100,000 in 2016, according to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. This rate is only slightly less than Iraq’s rate of violent gun deaths, which is 4.28 per 100,000, and is the highest among Western countries.
Gun ownership drives up statistics of fatalities. A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that gun owners are more likely to successfully commit homicide or suicide compulsively.
And even stable-minded gun owners are not always diligent—they fail to safeguard their weapons from teenagers, as was the case for the Parkland, Florida, shooter.
There are also weak links in government agencies responsible for keeping weapons out of the hands of those with criminal or mental health history. This was brought to light after the shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, when the U.S. Air Force acknowledged it failed to report the perpetrator’s history of domestic abuse—which would have prevented him from buying firearms.
Political motivations aside, gun control activists do recognize real problems. But little seems to change despite the efforts of politicians and protesters alike.
Pause. Think of man’s worst problems. The ones that have beset him for millennia: disease, pollution, poverty, ignorance, religious confusion, war, terrorism, crime, violence, hunger, immorality, slavery, oppression, political upheaval and much more.
Regardless of attempts to solve them, from diplomatic meetings to military intervention, these problems persist. More often than not, they grow worse and even more complex as time goes on. Ask yourself: Why?
“Men have created many amazing technological inventions, but they cannot create solutions to their problems,” editor-in-chief of this magazine, David C. Pack, wrote in his booklet Why Man Cannot Solve His Problems. “Mankind has harnessed the power of computers to help process vast amounts of information, but human beings cannot correctly process their personal problems. Scientists have discovered much about the size, magnificence and precision of the universe, but they cannot discover the way to peace. Astronomers can find majestic, beautiful new galaxies throughout the universe, but they cannot find a way to preserve the beauty and majesty of Earth. Scientists have also unleashed the power of the atom, but they are powerless to unleash answers to life’s greatest questions. Educators have taught millions how to earn a living, but not how to live.
“The well-known presidential historian and columnist Peggy Noonan summarized the complex, jumbled course that has been mankind’s history: ‘In the long ribbon of history, life has been one long stained and tangled mess, full of famine, horror, war and disease. We must have thought we had it better because man had improved. But man doesn’t really ‘improve,’ does he? Man is man. Human nature is human nature; the impulse to destroy coexists with the desire to build and create and make better.’”
While most do not understand why humans are, on the whole, incapable of resolving their issues, you can understand the reason. Continue reading Mr. Pack’s booklet. It will also show you that there is a way man can solve even his most daunting and complex problems.
This article contains information from The Associated Press.