By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders
I am reminded that in the 1960s when I was a teenager growing up in Stuyvesant Town and attending the local public schools, it was largely student agitation and protests that helped bring an end to the Vietnam War. In so doing they brought down a president. After all, most of the 58,000 American deaths were of kids barely out of high school.
Tragic events and fate now summons this generation of students and the millennials to do what their parents and grandparents have not been able to do, to stop the insane gun proliferation and resulting carnage funded by the NRA, and fueled by billion-dollar gun manufacturers who keep pumping out more and more lethal firearms. After all, it is so many students who are the victims of mass school shootings, the latest a high school in Parkland, Florida.
The thing about idealistic youth is that they know no limits and don’t know what they are not supposed to be able to achieve. And it is in this naïveté where success is realized. Won against all odds. Won in spite of the naysayers and pundits who say it cannot be done. The sports analogy would be a 22- year-old Cassius Clay boxing for the World’s Heavyweight Championship against Sonny Liston the toughest prizefighter on the planet. Or the 1980 upstart U.S. Olympic hockey team comprised of kids facing off against the awesome unbeatable Russian national team in Lake Placid.
And as it was in past generations, it falls again on the youth of today to take to the streets, the campaign trails and to the ballot box to make Congress finally act to protect our basic human right to live without the constant threat of gun violence in schools and public places. To make politicians finally act, if not in the public interest then to protect their own political self-interest.
There is a gathering storm of political fury on the horizon. And if this generation gives voice to that anger then all the millions of dollars that the NRA gives to politicians who protect their gun profits will not stop that movement.
Witnessing their classmates shot and killed gives these young people the moral clarity of purpose and sense of outrage who may once again refuse to take no for an answer like their grandparents two generations ago who protested an unjust war.
So to quote a leader from my era of the 1960s, “The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century…and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of our human rights…” That leader was also an agent of social change who pressed for a reduction and regulation of weapons on a nuclear scale. He was senselessly assassinated by a man with an easily purchased military rifle on November 22, 1963.
Since President Kennedy’s death, more Americans have been killed by gun violence than in all the wars in the history of our nation combined.
My hope and prayer is that this first generation of the 21st century will make gun massacres a thing of the past. And then these brave and idealistic young people will write their own chapter to be read in textbooks that today lie bloodstained on the floors of a yet another American school.