Student gun protests should inspire us all

"Generation Z" — comprising those born around the turn of the 21st century — has been getting a bad rap from older folks. Z's members been called self-centered and uninvolved. They've been accused of skating through life with their faces buried in their handheld devices. And on, and on.

If older generations have learned anything in the two weeks since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, it's not only that the nation's youth shouldn't be judged so simplistically but that those same young people have a lot to teach their cynical elders about the efficacy of civic involvement.

Tuesday, students from Pittsfield and Taconic high schools in Massachusetts marched and rallied to show respect for their fallen comrades in Florida and the adults who died with them, as well as to demand change in an American way of life that values the personal possession of weapons more than the safety of the nation's children. There is nothing like a tragedy that hits close to home to galvanize people into action, and it understandably takes little for a Pittsfield teen to imagine himself or herself in the place of one of the fallen. To their elders, who have watched, horrified, as news of shooting after shooting has spewed from their TVs over the years, and who have followed the same ineffective Kabuki ritual performed by their so-called leaders in response, their zeal is commendable but naive. After all, if nothing was done after elementary schoolchildren were mowed down at Sandy Hook — even after pleadings by a president not in thrall to the NRA — then why should it be any different when it happens to a bunch of Florida teenagers?

As it turns out, it's that very "naivete" that has impelled young people all over the nation to find their voices and collectively express them in a desperate plea to break the stranglehold the gun lobby has on our national government. It's an effort that may or may not succeed, but it has already generated seismic rumblings in the political status quo.

Until the Douglas High tragedy, no one has ever spoken out in such piercing eloquence as some of the survivors of that attack, and no one has laid out in such stark terms the shame adults should bear for their personal pain. It has touched the masses and raised them from their political torpor; it has forced some politicians to rethink some of their extreme pro-gun positions.

Good citizenship, a concept that has long lain unattended and disrespected, is experiencing a rebirth at the hands of young Americans. Marching, agitating, rallying, demanding, insisting — these are what the First Amendment was designed to protect and ensure, and the Pittsfield marchers and their brethren throughout the land are learning that there is influence in numbers — particularly in an election year, when many will be voting for the first time. To that end, we urge everyone eligible to register to vote and to show up at the polls on Nov. 6.

The real-life civics lessons these students are learning through Tuesday's actions and the others that will surely follow will serve them well as they age. Social activism is transferable to any number of public issues, and a nation governs itself best when its citizens bother to inform themselves and participate in their own destinies. We have experienced many emotions in the wake of the Douglas High tragedy; one we may have missed is gratitude — to the young people who, through their freshness and vigor, remind us that no matter how insurmountable our problems may seem, we should never give up trying to solve them.

— The Berkshire Eagle


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