This is the one story that you should read today. My friend and writer, Renee Fisher from “Life in the Boomer Lane” has written an eye-opening story about the extraordinary times we live in, gun violence, Stoneman Douglas High School students, the NRA and more. Thank you Renee for letting us share this story.
I’ve always intended my blog to be a humorous take on life. Although I have certainly written serious pieces, they have mostly been about close friends and ordinary people I’ve met who have inspired me in some way. But those are a small percentage of the number of pieces I’ve posted.
I’ve set some kind of record now. I’ve written two serious pieces in a row. Last week I wrote one about my friend Janice and about how dying can be as life-affirming as living. This week, I’m writing about the March for Our Lives rally I participated in on Saturday in Washington, DC.
Now Husband always says that we are living in extraordinary times. By that, he does not mean that things going on now are amazing and phenomenal. He and I agree that the opposite is true, that the times are unusual, astonishing, and uncommon. We agree that we have lost our direction as a country. And we also believe that many Americans who feel as we do feel unable to do anything about this frustration and this fear. We are too small, and “they” are too powerful. And so we go around being depressed or being irate or seeming to be oblivious. But, whatever the reaction, the result is the same: We do nothing.
And then, on February 14 of this year, a mass shooting occurred at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. One 19-year-old gunman, in the span of six minutes and twenty seconds, killed fourteen students and three teachers. He injured fifteen students, some of them quite seriously. Thirty-two people in little over six minutes. He did it with the help of an AR-15 rifle, capable of shooting 600 rounds per minute. The AR-15 is legal in this country for civilian use..
Stoneman Douglas was yet one more predictable mass shooting in a line of what has become almost too many mass gun shootings to count. As with the others, our politicians put on their serious, compassionate faces and extended their condolences and prayers. As with the others, people gathered. Vigils were held. Candles were lit. Tears were shed. Heads were shaken. People were embraced. Hands were held. With others, a flurry of attention was given to the matter of gun violence, before attention was directed elsewhere. As a country, we moved on. This time, things were different.
Like everyone around me, I was devastated by what happened at Stoneman Douglas. But, while I have always been horrified by gun violence, I had never given much thought to the NRA. Then, a couple of years ago, a gun store rented space in a small strip mall at the edge of my neighborhood and prepared to move in. The result was that it ignited neighborhood activism. It was then, in an attempt to help with the neighborhood effort, that I began to really look at how the NRA operates. I did a ton of research, and I gave equal time to pro-gun rhetoric. In other words, I got “smart” on the NRA.
Now, when I hear the rhetoric, I see how the actual facts have been manipulated and/or distorted. My research did not turn me against law-abiding citizens who, for a variety of reasons, own non-military weapons. But it did open my eyes to the danger the NRA poses to this country.
Eventually, we won our fight and the gun store went elsewhere. It was an exhausting experience. But I am grateful that it created a need for me to put emotion aside and look at the reality of the influence of the NRA in this country. I was now able to look at Parkland in a different way than I had looked at previous gun massacres. I was able to shift a lot of my anger away from the shooter and focus instead on the biggest underlying cause of gun violence: the promotion of guns as a way to solve problems and the subsequent ease of obtaining such guns, and a complicit political system that derives much of its money from one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the country.
Hunting and target practice aside, it is fear that drives many people to own guns. And it is the Second Amendment, waved in our faces like some new American flag, that turns that fear into something looking more like honor. Gun ownership, for many, has become a badge of patriotism. Along with this, the NRA uses the Second Amendment to justify unacceptable gun-selling practices, and allowing civilians to own military-grade weapons. The truth is a bit different. Money and power, not adherence to the Second Amendment, is what drives the NRA and the politicians it supports.
The NRA was created in 1871. It was founded in order to advance rifle marksmanship. At a time in our history when far more people actually hunted for their food, this was a worthy mission, indeed. In the 1930s, the NRA began its first lobbying efforts. Then, on May 21, 1977, the modern NRA was born. Firearms became big business. The NRA is now a fierce political organization and one of the most powerful lobby groups in the country. It has five million members, mostly responsible, law-abiding citizens. They comprise roughly one and one-half percent of the population, a miniscule number. And yet the reach of the NRA affects every citizen in this country. It’s the great American success story, unfortunately with results like Columbine, Newtown, and Stoneman Douglas.
In terms of fatalities, Parkland was, by far, not the most horrific. But in terms of the shockwaves it created, it was unprecedented. It has created a tsunami of national reaction. One of the Parkland students explained it this way: “When Columbine occurred, there was no social media. When Newtown occurred, it was very young children who were the victims. This is different. We have a voice, and we have social media. That’s why this is happening.”
And it was this, the Parkland students’ voices and their use of social media that resulted in half a million people assembling in Washington, DC and close to two million others in 800 other marches across the U.S. and the world. Their unifying message, repeated over and over, was this: Enough is enough. Never again. Vote them out.
I stood in the massive gathering along Pennsylvania Ave, on a direct line that led to the nation’s Capital. I listened to the music and to the speeches. I read the countless handmade signs all around me. I laughed, I cried, I applauded, I raised my fist, I felt chills going up and down my spine. Most of all, I marveled that these young, articulate, committed children (as young as the nine-year-old granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr). were doing more than addressing gun violence in this country. They were addressing the moral decay that has been eating away at us for decades. They were standing up to the most powerful of us, those whose greed overrides any sense of moral conviction they might have. They were looking the beast straight in the eye and telling it its days were numbered.
I have experienced many moments of intense pride in my life. For most of my life, I have experienced intense pride in being an American. Since November 8, 2016, that pride in being an American stopped. I couldn’t imagine that it would reawaken any time soon. These kids, not yet adults themselves, have not only reawakened my pride in my country, but even more, in my hope for a moral turnaround.
These kids, not old enough to vote, have started a revolution in the political process. Their words will continue to resonate with me as I, inspired by them, continue to take action: Enough is enough. Never again. VOTE. THEM. OUT.
Renee Fisher has a home in Bradenton and has her own on-line column, “Life In The Boomer Line” and also writes for the Huffington Post. www.lifeintheboomerlane.com
photo from Deposit Photos