Kamloops News

THOMPSON: Young people standing up against gun violence



Ten days ago, more than 800,000 people - led by teenagers - marched on Washington, D.C. to protest gun violence in America. Thousands more - also led by teenagers - in nearly a dozen Canadian cities stood in solidarity with American youth. Indeed, youth-led protests were held worldwide.

I’ve never been more proud of today’s young folks…here and in America. There’s a certain optimism…a certain idealism…that comes with being young. It is inspiring…it makes you believe that most things are possible.

It’s barely noticeable, but over time maybe we lose some of youth’s fire as we age. Maybe we get worn down a bit from years of reality…though why things are certain ways seem more like excuses than not.

I listened to the boys and girls - some of them 11 or 12 years old - speak from their hearts to the 800,000 marchers…and to millions more on television around the world. No one over 21 years old spoke. Survivors from school shootings from the recent Parkland massacre to Columbine were on stage…even those who were first graders at Sandy Hook spoke…they are now teenagers. You could see it in all their faces…that feeling of standing up for what you know is right.

The “March for Our Lives” is the largest protest ever in America’s capital…bigger than last year’s Inaugural Women’s March…bigger than the Million Man March (closer to half a million actually showed up) in 1995…bigger than the Vietnam Anti-War Demonstration in 1969…and bigger than the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.

As important as the issue of gun violence is, this teenager-led movement - it’s more than a moment - is much bigger than that. These young people are going to show politicians in the pockets of the National Rifle Association (NRA) that sensible gun control is the best answer to the question: What do we do about gun violence in America?

What’s sensible? These young kids make it clear…comprehensive background checks for all gun sales - including online and gun show sales - the elimination of devices that effectively turn a semi-automatic into an automatic weapon, banning of so-called silencers and high-capacity magazines for semi-automatic weapons. The vast majority of Americans - as many as 90 percent - favour universal background checks. But NRA-bought politicians have looked the other way for too long.

Politicians and Right Wing talking heads on the take have long claimed that those who want fewer deaths from gun violence simply want the government to take away all the handguns and hunting rifles from law-abiding citizens. Nonsense, of course. Not true, and never was. Still, this false vast conspiracy theory is a rallying cry to make people paranoid and get them to dismiss common sense. Kids are going to end this, finally, and lots of Republicans in the House and Senate should polish their resumes for new jobs after the November election.

It is the power of voting that this youth movement is really all about. Millions of new voters - young people who have in large part been ignored - are going to discover they can make a difference. And, boy, is that going to be a heady experience for an overlooked, under-represented segment of America.

My generation and other generations before and after have failed America. We have not voted in enough good people for decades…and we’ve kept them in positions to do more harm than good...again, for decades. This generation is saying, “Enough is enough.” And, this time, they mean it.

I’ve always thought the low number of Americans who vote is a disgrace…just 55.7 per cent of those eligible actually vote, according to Pew Research. Canada is better at 63 per cent…but most Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development nations exercise their rights better. In Belgium, 87 per cent of those eligible vote…Denmark and Sweden are above 80 per cent, as well. And these elections - unlike those in Russia and Turkey - are fairly held.

I believe the youth of America will turn out in force this November…perhaps the highest percentage of voters aged 18 to 25 ever. Further, I believe young people will inspire those older to make their voices heard, as well.

Yes, young people are spearheading the gun violence issue now. But they will turn their attentions to other solvable issues that other generations have failed to solve…like healthcare and education and immigration and justice for all. All good things. What’s tragically unfortunate and a damn shame is that it has taken this long...and too many people had to die to get people to do the right things.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines. His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.

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