In the weeks following the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, there has been an unprecedented wave of activism for gun control.
We believe this activism is a positive step toward real change, and if change occurs, the National Student Walkout and last weekend’s March For Our Lives will certainly have factored in.
However, those who want to see gun reform also need to be real with themselves: protesting alone won’t force change, especially when those in power are those opposite your view. What the movement needs most of all are clear, tangible goals.
And right now, that’s just not the case. Exhibit A: the March For Our Lives mission statement.
“School safety is not a political issue,” the statement reads. “There cannot be two sides to doing everything in our power to ensure the lives and futures of children who are at risk of dying when they should be learning, playing, and growing. The mission and focus of March For Our Lives is to demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address these gun issues.”
Now, we’re no policy experts, but what exactly does “a comprehensive and effective” bill entail? Is it an assault weapons ban? Is it a handgun ban? Does it limit the size of a magazine or make modifications like bump stocks illegal?
And herein lies the problem. Obviously, we don’t expect the organizers behind the Walkout or March For Our Lives to be policy experts and have a plan drafted and ready to go. But at the same time, how can we simply ask for a “comprehensive and effective bill” and expect something to happen?
When those who don’t agree with your ideas can ask “What exactly are you protesting?” you might need to clarify your goals.
The fact of the matter is this activism has no base from which to grow. Yes, we can say that the U.S. desperately needs gun reform, but so too do we need to say what we want that reform to be.
We understand that that’s not an easy question to answer, and we recognize that not everyone will have the same answer or even agree with the basic premise. But if there is no starting point, there’s no end point either. The cycle of gun deaths will continue unabated.
So even if these marches continue, we can’t expect change to magically appear. The Democrats who are most likely to draft some kind of gun control legislation are the same Democrats who wield exactly zero levers of power in Washington, D.C.
Protests may be a crucial and indispensable part of the democratic process, but they’re not everything. When we organize these protests, we must speak with clear voices and with clearer demands. Otherwise, don’t expect Congress to listen.
The editorial board can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.