Can’t make the same mistakes this time
We are the children, the last generation
We are the ones they left behind
And I wonder when we are ever gonna change?
Living under the fear, till nothing else remains… (Lyrics “We Don’t Need Another Hero“ by Graham Hamilton Lyle / Terry Britten © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.) (photo credit)
I’m no “Mad Max” fan but as I think about the hundreds of thousands of young people all over the country who are galvanized by the refusal of politicians to take action against gun violence, the words of Tina Turner’s legendary anthem keep running through my head. “We don’t need another hero,” she sang with the children’s chorus in the dystopian collapse of civilization depicted in the film, “All we want is life beyond the Thunderdome” — a place of horror, of cruel and brutal struggle for dominance. The rulers made this mess; the children are trying to survive beyond it: “There’s got to be something better out there.”
The March For Our Lives is organized and led by heroic young women and men who are fed up with the corruption of a political system that has sacrificed the lives of their friends and classmates on the altar of power — for politicians, the power of staying in office through taking campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association; for some (not all) gun advocates, the power of owning an arsenal stockpiled against the perceived threats to their desired way of life.
We now live in an age where the hero is a coach or teacher taking a bullet to protect students; or a school resources officer killing one student to protect many more. The classroom and school corridors have become the Thunderdome. Other children in our communities live with everyday gun violence on the streets of the city. Too many neighborhoods are traumatized every single day by gun violence, and the toll taken particularly among communities of color is horrifying.
Even as I write, yet another young life is gone — the young woman Jaelynn Willey shot in the Great Mills school shooting has been taken off life support; another family is grieving, forever changed for the worse because of the prevalence of guns. The family of the student who killed her is also grieving; the tragedy of gun violence never ends even when the shooter is dead. We hail the school safety officer as a hero for stopping the shooter, but in the end there is only profound tragedy all the way around.
We don’t need another hero dying or shooting in the murderous contest between those with guns and those fleeing bullets. We need an end to the violence, and that can only come when and if this country gets a grip on its sanity and regulates the sale and possession of guns. Period.
The prevalence of guns in American life is a symbol and cipher for the level of violence our culture has come to accept as normal. Let’s be clear: there is NOTHING that is “normal” about a supposedly advanced civilization in which people feel the need to arm themselves against each other. That is not progress. That is not normal. That is not civilization.
Tomorrow the children are marching against the dystopian view that condemns the entire nation to an endless vision of bloodshed and fear, children crouching under desks while teachers and coaches sacrifice their lives in futile efforts to stop the mayhem caused by a single AR-15 rifle; young people used to seeing lives draining away on the street because our society is teaching them to settle differences with bullets.
The Founders of this nation — so often held up as the examples to follow, except when we want to ignore them — the Founders were men (all white men) who lived in a time-bound place-bound culture. They crafted a pretty remarkable document, the Constitution of the United States, that has held up very well over the years, but parts of the Constitution were artifacts of the founding era. So it was that the most shameful artifact found in the Constitution was Article 1 Section 2 Clause 3 that treated slaves as 3/5 of persons for proportionate representation counts — the immoral “Three-Fifths Compromise” that lasted until shortly after the Civil War when the Fourteenth Amendment explicitly repealed that part of Article 1 and recognized black citizens as full human beings and citizens. And then there’s the subject of women, who were treated as property and not allowed to vote until the enactment of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
So, the Constitution crafted in 1789 in another age has been interpreted and amended, and its very elasticity has kept us together as a nation. For this very reason, the rigid and ahistorical reading of the Second Amendment does a disservice to the intent of the Founders and the need of this nation to bring its gun laws into alignment with modern realities. The Second Amendment was enacted in a time before the creation of the U.S. Army, a time immediately after the American Revolution when the idea of the citizen militia still had force. Today, with a large military force and extensive law enforcement power, we do not need to sustain a citizen militia, which is the point of the Second Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” A plain reading off the language clearly tells us that the right to bear arms is about the function of the militia.
But even accepting the arguments to the effect that the Founders intended the “right to bear arms” to be for private individual enjoyment quite apart from the militia, the fact remains that the contemporary culture has become so unstable as a result of the overwhelming saturation of guns that change must occur, and quickly. There are many options. One option is to enact some reasonable restraints on who may purchase guns, background checks, limits on the number and type of guns that citizens can purchase. More extreme options should be open for discussion, up to and including amending or repealing the Second Amendment.
The youth are marching on Saturday because their lives and their futures are at grave risk. Hundreds of thousands of children have been affected by gun violence in their schools and neighborhoods. The Parkland students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are only the latest in a decades-long and utterly tragic procession of those who now must live in the aftermath of terrible violence. They are galvanized to march and to demand change because they have reached the end of patience with the corruption of the political world that ignores the most serious threat our nation faces. We can hardly stand up to aggressors from abroad if we allow violence to flow so freely on our own streets.
On Friday, March 23, the day before the March For Our Lives, Trinity will host a daylong Teach-In on Gun Violence with panels to discuss guns from the medical, legal, policy and educational perspectives. We will continue these discussions and advocacy well beyond this week.
We stand in solidarity with the young people who are leading the way for our country right now. President and Mrs. Barack Obama sent a beautiful message of solidarity and support to the Parkland students and it seems appropriate to present this message here:
“You’ve helped awaken the conscience of the nation” — a powerful statement from old leaders to young leaders who are setting a new standard for “resilience, resolve and solidarity.” We march literally or figuratively with the youth of America to proclaim the urgent need for social change, to demand that our lawmakers find their spines, to insist on political and moral courage to put an end to the violence. We must confront the corruption of politicians who mouth phrases about the “right to life” while taking millions of dollars from the gun lobby, who then stand silent as countless lives are devastated and lost because of a lack of political willpower to stand up for the right of all people to live in safety and peace.
So what do we do with our lives?
We leave only a mark.
Will our story shine like a light,
Or end in the dark?
Give it all or nothing!