Saturday, March 31, 2018

March for our Lives

Driving down a highway in Charlotte, North Carolina on Saturday the 24th of March, I passed a giant billboard advertising a gun show. This being the south, it was nothing out of the ordinary. Gun shows and expos are common here and many like to buy weapons as an expression of their freedom. An $8 entry fee can get you into a giant warehouse, where you can choose a gun of your liking from a smorgasbord of weapons, and with a brief background check, probably walkout with an AR15 or much worse. When I googled the words "gun show" and "North Carolina" a whole list of venues surfaced. There were six scheduled just for April.

On this day my intention was to be walking with the 800 thousand in Washington, D.C. in a rally against gun violence called "March for our Lives". But a showing of my new film brought me to North Carolina instead.

When it comes to gun ownership, North Carolina is the 26th most liberal state in the nation. It is considered a permissive state for firearms owners, with no state-imposed restrictions on "assault weapons", no magazine capacity restrictions, no caliber restrictions, and few restrictions on the open carrying of firearms. As expected a march was also planned in Charlotte and a sizable number showed up downtown to make their voices heard. But they were a minority in a largely Republican state.

The marches and rallies large and small across America and the world were unprecedented. About 800 cities around the globe showed solidarity with the marchers in Washington, D.C. The gathering in the nation's capital was the largest civic engagement since the Vietnam War protests and most of the participants were teenage school children. They walked hand in hand with their parents asking for something very fundamental, something that should never have been a cause for a rallying cry in a wealthy civil society. Their demand was for an expectation of safety, so they could go to school without the threat of being murdered in cold blood. This is what America in all its wealth and wisdom had brought its most vulnerable to do. While there was hope in the air, it was also probably one of the darkest days in the trajectory of this nation.

Even in a deeply divided nation such as the present one, a majority of Americans were on the side of the children. But there were some who were dead inside to even acknowledge that there was a problem that needed urgent attention. As it happens so often these days, conspiracy theories began to spread. The students who started this movement after surviving a horrific carnage in their school, were called into question. Some called them "crisis actors", being paid to play a role for the liberal left to undermine the freedoms of those they disagree with. Some said they were too young to understand the politics around gun control and should stay in their classrooms. An ex-senator said taking CPR lessons was a much better use of their time. A self proclaimed journalist on Fox News disparaged one of the prominent student spokesman as being a "whiner" and had been rejected from colleges for being sub par. She later apologized for her remarks in the spirit of the "holy week", but not until advertisers began to pull out of her show in a rebuke of her heartless comments. It was clear the right wing supporters of the 2nd Amendment were being rattled by the out pouring of support for those who had had enough.

In many of my previous commentaries I have argued for the elimination of the 2nd Amendment from the US constitution as it is based on an obsolete, anachronistic and absurd idea, that has no relevance in the times we live in. In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens argued for its expungement as well. He wrote "concern that a national standing army might pose a threat to the security of the separate states led to the adoption of that amendment, which provides that “a well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Today that concern is a relic of the 18th century".

Justice Stevens a life long Republican was appointed to the court by President Ford in 1975. He retired from the bench in 2010, and during his tenure was involved in many gun control debates at the court. In 2008 he dissented on one particular ruling, losing 5 to 4, giving the NRA an undue advantage to push its agenda and become the powerful lobby that it is today.

Watching droves filling the streets was heartening. Hearing the courageous, traumatized children articulate their position was moving and heart breaking. When Samantha Fuentes, a wounded survivor from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, vomited on stage and needed to be consoled to continue her speech, I was in tears. Watching all this on television from my hotel room in Charlotte, I felt hope. For the first time I felt change was possible via people power. Even though in the back of my mind I knew there was a long struggle ahead with many disappointments in store, it felt the momentum was on the right side of history. Everyone perceived a shift, much like they did when Dr. King marched to end segregation and masses thronged the streets to end the Vietnam War.

The tenacity and resolve of those who want to hold on to their guns without any restrictions is strong. The gun shows are big business. There is no question a change in economics can bring it all to a grinding halt, even if the government refuses to act. Remington, a 200 year old gun manufacturing company filed for Bankruptcy this month. Which on the surface seemed like an encouraging sign, but they were also able to secure a $75 million loan to continue through their Chapter 11 restructuring process.

Saturday the 24th of March, could go down in American history as a pivotal moment. But there is much work to be done and many battles to be fought, before we can permanently rid America and its constitution from a decrepit disease.

It is what it is.

1 comment :

  1. True.Economics out weigh the safety of public.I am also afraid that gun control is not possible in view of powerful lobby.