The March for Our Lives was one of the single biggest days of protest in U.S. history. With hundreds of thousands in D.C., and tens of thousands in major cities across the country, there were a total of 800 protests around the country and internationally — it is clear: young people have ignited a fight back. In fact the New York Times reported that protests occurred in no less than 390 of the 435 Congressional districts in the U.S., indicating the massive breadth of this upsurge which has put the right wing and especially the National Rifle Association on the defensive.
At the march in D.C., students and young people from across the country spoke about the public health crisis of gun violence in all its forms from mass shootings to gang violence to police killings of black people. These students are not content to limit this discussion to just gun violence, they have taken aim at racism, sexism, and corporate influence over politics.
Socialist Alternative (our sister organisation in the US) participated in marches everywhere we have members. We distributed picket signs which read “Guns are not school supplies – tax the rich to fully fund schools.” We led chants that included “School supplies not ammunition, background check the politicians!.” And “Students walkout, teachers strike; this is how we win the fight!”
While the clear attempts from the Democratic Party to channel this movement into safe channels by placing emphasis on the 2018 midterm election have gained an echo with some, there are many students and young people who are not content to wait until November to see change. Below is an article from The Socialist about socialists in the US take up the question of gun violence.
By Conor Payne
On February 14, 17 people were murdered in a mass shooting in a high school in Parkland, Florida. Incredibly this is the 17th school shooting so far in 2018. According to the Gun Violence Archive, a mass shooting takes place in the US on average 9 out of every 10 days.
Incidents like the Parkland shooting are always accompanied by calls for action on gun violence, usually ignored by a political establishment bought by the arms industry lobby. However, in this case, survivors themselves have spoken out, challenging the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the politicians they fund.
Young people take action
The stand of the students has sparked protests nationally, with a national school walkout called for 14 March, a protest in Washington D.C. on 24 March and a national day of action on 20 April. Their anger and the strength of their criticisms has had an important effect on the political debate. One poll shows support for stricter gun control measures at 69%, up from 52% last October.
Even Trump has accepted the need for some gun control measures (at least in words)! A movement of young people with concrete demands for action on gun violence could be a very positive development which puts the corporate politicians on the backfoot. The actions in March and April should be supported by unions representing teachers and others who work in schools.
The inaction of the political establishment on guns is not primarily explained by public opinion. The NRA claims to represent ordinary working-class people who own guns, but in reality it represents the gun manufacturers who provide much of its funding. In turn they have funded more half of the current membership of the US congress. While undoubtedly fuelled in part by a reactionary, right wing ideology, it also functions as lobby for an important section of US big business with a mission to stop any policy which would disrupt their ability to make profit.
The US obviously suffers from a far higher rate of gun deaths than other wealthy countries, and this is in significant measure a result of the widespread ownership of guns in US society. Socialist Alternative, our sister party in the US, supports the core demands of the students in Parkland such as a ban on semi-automatic, military style weapons and large capacity magazines, and appropriate background checks for all gun sales. These are measures which have clear majority support, including among many who own guns.
However, we also need to recognise the limits of gun control measures. There are also dangers in demanding that the state effectively forcibly disarm people en masse. The Black Lives Matter movement has exposed to a wide audience the fact that the police and other state forces are themselves deeply violent, with the bulk of this violence being directed against people of colour. Any attempt to remove guns already in use would necessarily mean an escalation of state repression. A movement for gun control should be linked to one for a demilitarised, unarmed police force that is democratically controlled by working-class communities.
What fuels gun violence?
Mass shootings are caused by multiple factors including the increasing isolation and alienation people are experiencing under neo-liberal capitalism and the effect of decades of underfunding of social services and education. Some are driven at least in part by racist, homophobic and far right ideas. A programme for tackling these killings should take all this into account in addition to demanding the necessary gun control measures.
The response of the young survivors of the Parkland shooting reflects a very important change taking place in US society – a new generation of politicised young people who are unwilling to accept a rotten status quo of racism, inequality and capitalism.