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Editorial: In support of the student walkout

Students in Western New York, and around the country, plan to walk out of their classrooms for 17 minutes today in honor – and in protest – of the 17 people killed in gun violence last month in a Parkland, Fla., school. Why shouldn’t they? Their lives matter, too.

Understandably, perhaps, student voices had been missing in the aftermath of the periodic violence breaking out in American schools. That’s changed – permanently, one hopes – and any reasonable adult should find it easy to acknowledge that students’ interest is compelling. Fourteen students and three teachers were gunned down in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School one month ago today. Seventeen others were wounded.

On Feb. 14, near the end of the school day, a disturbed former student who had been expelled barged into his old school, armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and intent on bloodshed. He succeeded. It was a massacre, the likes of which we have seen too often.

But unlike previous assaults, this one provoked an instant and sustained response from student leaders at the school. It’s a welcome development. Students have called out politicians from Florida state legislators to President Trump and their example has made a difference.

Last week in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott signed a new gun control law to the irritation of the National Rifle Association. Today, students’ focus finds its broadest expression yet as students here and around the country take 17 minutes to demand action.

However anyone thinks this crisis should be confronted, the students deserve praise and encouragement. Democracies work when constituencies are passionate, consistent and credible. A 17-minute walkout by students around the country makes a powerful point without being so disruptive as to undermine their cause.

This is their moment, as school administrators seem largely to understand and even to support. Students need to remember today that the eyes of the world are on them. How they conduct themselves over those 17 minutes will have an impact on what happens next. That can be a hard lesson even for adults to absorb, let alone students who are much younger and still learning how best to make themselves heard in a cacophonous world and on a subject that rouses great and sometimes irrational passions.

But they have a right to speak out – maybe even a duty. In the face of bloody assaults that are killing dozens of Americans at a time, the nation has been a deer in the headlights: frozen as danger hurtles closer.

The right actions to take in this calamity may be debatable but inaction is both immoral and un-American. With their involvement, students are helping to change the nature of the country’s response to intolerable violence. They deserve our thanks and support.

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