#MarchForOurLives: are young people leading America’s war on guns?

Saturday 13 October, 14:0015:30, Garden RoomCountercultural concerns

On Valentine’s Day 2018, a 19-year-old gunman and former student opened fire in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in the affluent white suburb of Parklands, Florida, killing 14 students, three teachers and injuring 17 others. The tragedy was one of the worst mass shootings in recent US history. In response, surviving school students launched the #NeverAgain movement, demanding the reform of gun laws, including a renewed assault-weapons ban, universal background checks and digitised gun-ownership records.

Politicians, celebrities and media commentators across the world applauded the young protesters for tackling issues that they argued adults had failed to address. ‘We’ve been waiting for you’, tweeted former US President Barack Obama. ‘If #NeverAgain movement teams up with college students, that’s it. Game over. Stick a fork in politicians… they’re done’, tweeted singer Cher. Spurred on by such support, students organised a protest march under the hashtag #MarchForOurLives. It was one of the biggest youth protests since the Vietnam War, with over 1.2million reported to be in attendance.

#NeverAgain has successfully turned the focus of conversation about gun control and the Second Amendment from a political debate concerning liberty and the freedom to bear arms into a moral question about safety. Those called the ‘hero-victims’ of Parklands and their supporters are calling out the older generation – Republicans and Democrats – for what they see as a legacy of violence and chaos. In her speech at the rally, a young survivor of the Parklands attack, Emma González, declared: ‘We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks… we are going to be the last mass shooting.’

But it’s not just gun control that this new youth movement wants to address. Supporters say they are ready to name and shame the generation that came before them, including Harvey Weinstein, the NRA and so-called climate-change deniers. Some argue that what started as a response to a mass shooting has been hijacked by Democrats and turned into an anti-Trump movement. Some have even described the praise for March For Our Lives as ‘virtue signalling’.

What does this new surge of interest in youth activism tell us about changing political discourse in the US? Why are adults so ready to defer to young people? Are we taking the old cliché that children are the future too seriously? Are the #NeverAgain generation following in the footsteps of young radicals before them? Or is this teenage protest more about playing the victim than challenging the status quo?