For those of us lucky enough to have grown up before the mass proliferation of guns in America, the scariest thing about going to school was some playground bully named Biff trying to take away your lunch money.
Nobody could have imagined such a heart-soaring moment as last weekend’s March for Our Lives, because nobody could have imagined a need for so many people to gather, in so many hundreds of demonstrations across the country, to join in national chorus declaring, Enough.
Enough with the guns, and enough with the killings, and enough with all those in Washington who think the right to own weapons of murder is greater than the right to protect innocent human life.
If you watched those kids on Saturday and listened to their impassioned words, how could you fail to be moved – unless you’re a U.S. congressman with a job on the line and the National Rifle Association’s hands are in your back pocket?
Some of us remember standing in front of our long-ago 10th grade English classes to deliver a simple book report – the nausea-inducing anxiety, merely having to stand and talk in front of 30 of your peers – and we marvel now at the poise and sophistication of these kids facing network TV cameras and an entire nation, and showing us courage far beyond their years.
The tragedy of 17 lives snuffed out at a high school in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14 has energized a generation once thought to be too absorbed in their video games and smart phones to take notice of the world around them.
They’ve stunned us, and we wish now to follow their lead.
But where are we heading? Over the weekend, in the midst of all the speeches and the marching, more than 400 people across the country were shooting victims. Across the first few months of the year, the figure tops 12,000. Nobody in Baltimore finds such numbers surprising, as we are major contributors.
The weapons are out there by the millions now, and nobody’s running a collections operation to confiscate them. But all the polls say that Americans overwhelmingly want tighter controls over gun sales, want tighter background checks, want the banning of weapons that slaughter en masse, and want sales restricted to those past their teens.
There’s no arguing about the hunger expressed by the vast majority of Americans. We want sanity, that’s all. The argument is with all of those on Capitol Hill and in the White House, too intimidated and cowered by the NRA and its money and its threats and its taunts.
And if these kids can somehow stand up to the vulturous lobbyists and the quaking congressmen, and take their passion from the streets to the Capitol Hill corridors, then maybe we can return to a time when the most frightening thing about school was that nasty bully Biff trying to take away somebody’s lunch money.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” has just been re-issued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.