‘A child shall lead them’

Demonstrations against gun violence should stir nation's conscience

ONE OF US (LSD) is a Democrat. The other (PR) is a Republican. We disagree on many issues, but on the issue of access to assault rifles, we are in agreement.

After initial efforts focused on the Florida legislature, an entire nation has now witnessed young people, and many not so young people, peacefully take to the streets of our greatest cities. The message is a simple one – a demand for changes to existing laws which have enabled an epidemic of mass shootings of innocent people in schools and elsewhere.

There have been many other occasions in American history where a select group of people made a difference.

A grassroots movement brought about Prohibition almost 100 years ago, then saw that amendment repealed not long thereafter. Certainly, the Bonus Marchers in the 1930s impressed upon the American people that there was something very unjust about a government sending young men off to war only to renege upon its commitments to veterans of that war. More recently, the efforts of young people, often risking their own safety, accelerated the desegregation of America in the post-World War II era. In the same sense, young people were in the forefront of opposition to the Vietnam War.

Might what we saw start in Florida, which has now spread across the country, be the beginnings of a similar effort?

Somehow or other, notwithstanding more murders and more mass shootings than most of the other civilized countries of the world combined, many Americans have a blind spot. If the definition of “mass shooting” is restricted to four or more victims, there have been 146 of them in the last 50 years. That’s not something of which to be proud.

A message for the NRA from a demonstrator at the March for Our Lives in New York City. (Photo courtesy of Michael Barnet)

America’s gun-related murder rate is 25 times higher than a group of 22 other developed countries according to the American Journal of Medicine. Our nation has 5 percent of the world’s population and more than half of the world’s privately-owned firearms. In Florida, the laws were so lax that Nikolas Cruz was expelled from school and his home was visited by police nearly 40 times, but he could easily pass the background check to purchase an AR-15. No wonder there are 11,000 gun murders in the US each year!

Sadly, some Americans buy a revisionist history regarding the origins of the Second Amendment as advanced by the NRA, a massive membership-based organization of over 4 million, which has successfully generated high voter turnout from those concerned about what they believe to be their Second Amendment rights.

Is it possible that hunters, law enforcement personnel, and others can become a counterforce that will offset some of the NRA rhetoric, which ignores the numerous court cases that have clarified the right to bear arms as interpreted in a modern society which benefits from both a large standing army and police forces at most every level? Even Justice Antonin Scalia saw limits on those rights, writing in a decision shortly before his death, “Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast out longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

Recently, the Florida legislature voted, mostly along party lines. Will similar efforts occur in Colorado, in Texas, and other states that have suffered from this plague? Is there any logic in a political party being joined at the hip with an interest group as is currently the case with the NRA and the Republican Party? Does the Republican Party risk being incapable of growing its base as a result?

The NRA certainly is interested in maintaining its headlock on the Republican members of Congress. The group recently spent $5.6 million attacking North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr’s Democratic challenger and almost the same amount to elect Burr’s North Carolina colleague, Sen. Thom Tillis, and Sen. Roy Blunt in Missouri. Marco Rubio, who represents Florida and who squirmed his way through a recent CNN interview, was also the beneficiary of large contributions. The list is a long one.

Those of us who have studied history understand that not much more than 50 years ago the tobacco lobby was a very powerful force in American life. Senators such as Harry Byrd of Virginia and even the revered Sam Ervin of North Carolina did everything in their power to prevent federal regulation of tobacco and any restrictions on its use. It was children sitting with their parents, and perhaps their grandparents and uncles and aunts and older brothers and sisters, who brought about significant changes in public policy in the last few decades. Furthermore, leading institutions, including universities, foundations and pension funds, began divesting tobacco stocks, putting pressure on these large and profitable companies.

Will we see a new “long twilight struggle” that results in State Street and Fidelity, Harvard and MIT, Calpers and Mass PRIM selling their holdings in companies that make the weapons which are sold to those who should not be permitted to buy them, who then kill children while at school? Will this be another opportunity when “a child shall lead them” — in this case thousands upon thousands of children from across the country impressing upon their elected officials that enough is enough, and that a powerful interest group should no longer determine public policy for the American people?

Meet the Author

Meet the Author

The courageous students in Parkland, Florida, never intended on becoming famous; they never sought to be David in this fight against Goliath, but one individual on one day in February gave them no choice. We think the NRA would be wise to not underestimate the power of public sentiment.

Lawrence S. DiCara is a partner at Nixon Peabody and former president of the Boston City Council. Patrick Reynolds is chairman of the Board of Selectmen in North Attleboro and a student at Providence College. They are both graduates—more than 40 years apart—of Massachusetts Boys State, a week-long summer citizenship sponsored by the American Legion