PRESS EDITORIAL: Citizens young and bold and soon to be armed—with the vote

Pick a time in recent history. Let’s say the start of the 21st century, 18 years ago.

Who would have imagined then that dozens of students would be murdered in American schools by evildoers armed with legally-purchased assault rifles designed for warfare?

Who would have imagined then that students would lead a crusade to force elders who have tolerated unrestricted access to weapons made to kill humans to act against gun violence?

Yes, America has changed, tragically for the worse, but perhaps now—hopefully now—for the better.  

The students who survived the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., have inspired the nation with their powerful, eloquently expressed challenge to a political status quo that appears to regard gun-caused carnage as an acceptable side effect of unfettered gun ownership.

The Parkland students inspired Florida’s legislators and its governor to enact gun restrictions last week that raise the minimum age to buy guns to 21 and extend the waiting period to three days.

That legislation is only an incremental move in gun control—and is deficient in that it does not include a ban on the assault rifles used to kill 17 students and teachers at the Parkland school Feb. 14—but it is significant progress in Florida, which has so few rules for gun ownership that the Sunshine State has been dubbed the “Gunshine State.”

Another sign that the Florida law makes a positive impact is that the National Rifle Association hates it—the NRA instantly sued to block it.

The Parkland students also inspired their peers across the country, including those who attend Port Washington High School. At 10 a.m. Wednesday, hundreds of Port High students walked out of classes in a 17-minute demonstration against gun violence and in support of sensible gun control.

This was no lark, no get-out-of-school high jinks. This was a serious statement, a principled assertion of freedom of speech to petition government for laws protecting citizens. Educators, especially those who teach American problems, civics or history, had to be proud, for these students, even though they are too young to vote, showed they understand the imperatives of citizenship to be informed and unafraid in advocating for change.

The maturity and sense of purpose of the student organizers was on display in a news story on the front page of last week’s Ozaukee Press. Listen to what Port High senior Gabbie Matous told the Press editor: “We want those 17 minutes to be productive, so we’re planning to distribute information on how people can contact their legislators. We want people to take advantage of the information we provide and express their opinions about gun laws.”

Much to their credit, School Supt. Michael Weber and high school Principal Eric Burke respected the sincerity of the student organizers. Burke announced that all students would be free to take part in the walkout. “We realize students want to have a voice,” he said, “and we’re supporters of that.”

Less enlightened school districts, even some in gun-ravaged Florida, tried to prohibit student demonstrations against gun violence, threatening participants with expulsion.

Sad but not surprising, given the acrimony that often defeats reasonable debate over the gun control issue, the positive energy generated by the Parkland students brought out baseless, malign spewings by internet trolls and conspiracy theorists.

Some said the young people were not really students but actors paid to further an anti-gun agenda. Others claimed the teenagers were shills of the FBI, being used by the so-called deep state to cover up FBI failures.

Some of this came from the murky backwaters  of the web, the likes of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer. But some also came from more mainstream sources, including Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, who liked and tweeted links to conspiracy-theory postings.

There was even a regrettable Wisconsin connection. Former Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke, whose internet venom is so toxic he could not even clear the Trump administration’s low bar for acceptability to get the government job for which he lusted, tweeted that the Florida students were not legitimate advocates but pawns in the employ of liberal billionaire George Soros.

Depressing as they are, these rantings will likely soon be forgotten. There are reasons to hope those dispensing them and any politicians who listen to them will one day fade into irrelevance. Those reasons are the students—like those of Parkland, Fla., Port Washington, Wis., and cities and schools across the country—brave, motivated citizens who will soon be voting citizens.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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