By Linda Drajem
As the Bible says, “a little child will lead them.” This is so true today. On Wednesday, thousands of high school students across the country marched out of their schools in solidarity with the amazing students at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. They are demanding, not asking, but demanding better gun laws. They are saying that we adults have failed them. They are not wrong.
Back in 1968 after Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, I was active in promoting new gun control laws. With some friends I went to the doors of supermarkets and asked for signatures on petitions to lobby legislators for change. We sent letters and made phone calls. In the midst of that brief spell of lobbying I was asked to speak at a forum in Olean, N.Y. that purported to present differing views on gun issues. It did not, but I did not know that.
My father’s family was from the small town of Westfield, N.Y. They were hunters as was my father. Dad had a rifle and even a pistol, all registered of course. He and his brothers bagged deer and rabbits. We had dinners culled from their hunts at my aunt’s home. So I felt like Olean would be similar, would be folks like my family. Though my family approved of hunting of course, at that time there would be not a whisper of supporting the ‘right’ to own an assault rifle. My dad and my uncles would be appalled at such an idea. In fact one uncle went hunting with bow and arrow, saying that he did not think guns gave the animals a sporting chance.
My participation on the panel was a disaster. The other members of the panel and the crowd present in the library were totally opposed to listening to any idea guns should be regulated. I went bravely on, spouting my concerns regarding the proliferation of guns. Finally my husband signaled me to leave by the back door. A decidedly hostile crowd not like the hunters in my family.
Unfortunately, I have to say I did not stay active in the gun control debate. I had babies, a job, and other interests. As the years went on, like many Americans, I would shake my head at each new mass killing. Every so often I would send money to the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence. Like many Americans I was busy with other concerns. In addition I felt paralyzed by the money and activism of the NRA. I am not proud of myself, or of others like me.
But now these children are leading us. They are taking action. They are saying those 17 citizens in Parkland did not die in vain. Or the others who died in Las Vegas, Sandy Hook, Orlando, or in the mind numbing number of other mass shootings. Now is the time for sensible action. Do background checks. Mentally ill people or those on the terror watch list should not own guns. Guns for sport or even for protection do not include assault rifles.
On Tuesday, March 13, the Buffalo News had a sobering article: 600,000 gun victims have died since the National Rifle Association pushed Congress in 1994 to stop the Center for Disease Controls from even studying gun violence as a public health issue. From just studying it!! That is beyond shocking, if we are even able to be shocked any more.
Now some brave students are planning to take buses to Washington on March 24 for a demonstration for sensible gun laws. As the Stoneman Douglas students have asked, we adults could help by sponsoring students who wish to attend. There are fine people who are arranging such transportation locally. And we can show up at Niagara Square at 1:30 p.m. on that day. We can demand our legislators take action. No longer can we shake our heads, offer thoughts and prayers, and sit by while more children and adults die.
Linda Drajem of Buffalo is a retired teacher who grew up in a family of hunters.