Keep the pressure on

3/16/2018, 12:44 p.m.

We are encouraged and inspired by the activism of students in Metro Richmond and across the nation who staged school walkouts on Wednesday to remember the victims of the Valentine’s Day school massacre in Parkland, Fla., and to push federal and state lawmakers for tougher gun laws.

The voices of thousands of young people calling for basic gun legislation that will make their schools and lives safer cannot be ignored.

During more than 3,000 student demonstrations nationwide on Wednesday, students carried signs saying: “Enough is enough!” “Guns don’t die, kids die!” and “Arms R 4 Hugging.” In speeches on high school campuses and in interviews with the media, they said Congress and members of state legislatures need to act now to stop the bloodshed.

They asked for universal background checks for all gun purchases, for a ban on the sale of military-style assault weapons and for the age for gun purchases to be raised to 21.

They spoke about their fears of sitting in class and wondering if they will be the next victim of a mass school shooting. They called for change now.

Recent polls by several national groups show overwhelming support for tighter gun laws, including 97 percent favoring background checks before all gun purchases. Support for that common sense stricter gun law comes also from current gun owners, according to an independent Quinnipiac University national poll in February.

Unfortunately, little has been done on the national level with so many mixed messages coming from the Trump White House and members of Congress lacking initiative and backbone.

Even in the Virginia General Assembly, where more than 70 gun-related bills were introduced this session, only one measure was approved. It restricts minors ages 14 and older who have been committed or detained for mental health treatment from purchasing a firearm until they are certified as mentally competent.

Instead of advancing common sense restrictions such as banning bump stocks that turn semiautomatic weapons into automatic killing machines, Virginia’s and the nation’s so-called GOP leaders are framing the conversation around “school security” and not taking up gun restrictions at all. 

Rather, they talk about adding metal detectors at school doorways, putting police at all school entrances and exits and arming teachers to take down a school shooter, even suggesting paying teachers extra to take gun training and pack a weapon in their classroom as a first line of defense.

But as one educator pointed out, teachers aren’t given enough money to buy school supplies for their classrooms and now the government is ready to give them money to carry a gun. Something is wrong with that picture.

We agree. Something has been very wrong in America for a long time when people are willing to do more to protect their guns than their children.

The young people who walked out of class on Wednesday are getting a true lesson in democracy. They are seeing how the will of the people can be trumped by special interests, particularly monied special interests like the National Rifle Association that controls our lawmakers.

We hope the thousands of young people will “stay woke” and motivated and will be joined by their parents and other adults in the March for Our Lives anti-gun violence rally in Washington on March 24. 

Keep the pressure on. Lawmakers in Virginia and around the country need to know that, without real change to toughen gun laws and to protect our youths, these young people will be gunning for their seats in statehouses in a few short years.