Could teenagers be America’s last, best hope for California-style gun control?

Hundreds of high school and middle school students gather in front of the White House on Wednesday to support gun control. After a a teenage gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., dozens of schools in California and other states have reported threats of gun violence.
Hundreds of high school and middle school students gather in front of the White House on Wednesday to support gun control. After a a teenage gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., dozens of schools in California and other states have reported threats of gun violence. TNS

Less than a week after Nikolas Cruz stormed his old Florida high school with an AR-15 assault rifle, Sonjhia Lowery found herself in the entryway of C.K. McClatchy High School listening to her daughter’s classmates discuss how to survive a mass shooting.

“Kids,” she fumed to The Bee, “shouldn’t have to come to school and have those kind of conversations.”

She’s right. They shouldn’t. If anything has been made clear over the past few days, it’s that we have acquiesced to the firearms industry to a degree that is both insane and lethal.

An entire generation of young Americans has come of age, having never known life without active shooter drills. Understandably, they’re furious – and fed up with living in fear.

It’s not just in Parkland, Fla., where Cruz marched into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and killed 17 people on Valentine’s Day. Or in Sacramento, where a rumor that someone was going to shoot up McClatchy High scared dozens of students into staying home on Tuesday. Or in Whittier, where police this week seized guns and high-capacity magazines from a student who threatened to spray bullets at a continuation high school in the Los Angeles suburb.

It’s national, and the kids are right. This has to stop now.

The only question is whether President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans will do the right thing by following California’s lead and enacting some sensible gun laws.

Will they listen to the nation’s teenagers, now being led by an especially determined and media-savvy group from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High? Or will they fall in line, as ever, with the National Rifle Association?

The gun lobby has long led the GOP around by the nose with its blood money, including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his brethren in California’s congressional delegation, which got nearly $800,000 in campaign contributions.

History suggests they will cave again to the NRA, no matter how hollow and morally repugnant its views seem through the lens of the generation that has grown up as collateral damage. On Thursday, the group’s chief, Wayne LaPierre, shamelessly attacked gun control advocates and the press, and declared that that schools need to be “hardened” with more “good guys with guns,” even though an armed deputy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas never went inside to stop Cruz.

But it was hard not to hear the desperation in his voice, and those of other NRA mouthpieces. History does not necessarily dictate the future, and LaPierre’s demographic, like his NRA fear-talk, is getting old.

Faced with an onslaught of criticism from traumatized parents and teenagers in Parkland, Trump has surprised people by reflexively, for the moment, supporting some modest gun-control measures. Among them, changing the age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21 and requiring stricter background checks for would-be purchasers.

Under the category of better late than never, he also told the Justice Department to draft a ban for bump stocks, which can make legal semi-automatic rifles fire at nearly the speed of an illegal machine gun. Stephen Paddock used the device to mow down hundreds of concertgoers in Las Vegas last year.

Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, have softened their views on imposing a waiting period and a new age restriction for gun buyers, and giving police more power to confiscate guns from people deemed dangerous by the courts.

Still off the table is a prohibition on assault-style rifles, as supported by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and other congressional Democrats. Meanwhile, the president is pushing the ridiculous idea of arming teachers (which is illegal in California), and recently ended an Obama-era policy that would have made it harder for people with mental health issues to get a firearm even as he blamed the Florida shooting on Cruz’s mental instability.

But after years of hearing Republicans parrot the NRA line, seeing them discuss gun control at all is shocking. To know that teenagers are the reason it’s happening is inspiring.

What else could Trump do after the father of an 18-year-old girl who was killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas yelled at him during a White House “listening session”? “One school shooting and we all should’ve fixed it,” Andrew Pollack said. “And I’m pissed because my daughter, I’m not going to see again.”

And what else could Sen. Marco Rubio do after being dressed down by 17-year-old on live TV? “It’s hard to look at you,” Cameron Kasky told the Florida Republican, “and not look down the barrel of an AR-15, and not look at Nikolas Cruz.”

Change isn’t easy. It takes time and patience, and in politics it most of all takes money, which is where gun control advocacy groups should focus their efforts. It also can be a dirty business, made worse by conspiracy theories promoted by partisans and shared by gullible adults on social media.

On Tuesday, the Republican-led Florida House voted down a Democratic motion to debate an assault weapons ban, refusing to even wait for dozens of kids from Parkland to arrive by bus. A few students who were already there watched the proceedings through tears.

Here’s why LaPierre is worried, though: On Wednesday, as kids across the country left classrooms in solidarity, the students regrouped.

“We will make change in this country,” Lorenzo Prado, an 11th-grader, told lawmakers in Tallahassee. “And if not today, tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, the day after that and the day after that, until we achieve the change that we want in this country.”

On Friday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, caving to mounting political pressure, announced a plan to raise the minimum age to buy an assault rifle and to ban bump stocks.

We wish these kids luck. Lives depend on it.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee