Opinion: Thank you, kids, for telling us gun violence is not normal | Opinion | DW | 24.03.2018
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Opinion: Thank you, kids, for telling us gun violence is not normal

The "March for Our Lives" is successful and invaluable, DW's Michael Knigge writes. It rattled us adults who had accepted mass shootings as a fact of life.

Last summer, after having just moved from Germany to Washington, DC, with my family to work here as a correspondent, we went to a car dealership in a suburb to look for a vehicle. We spotted a car we liked, and the friendly staff asked us to wait while they gathered the relevant documents. That's when a man with a handgun in a holster walked into the dealership. My wife and I froze at the sight of an openly armed man sauntering around a car lot on a Saturday afternoon on the outskirts of Washington, but we tried to pretend that this was normal and that we were not scared so as to not draw attention to ourselves.

The other customers had clearly noticed the man, as well, but, like us pretended it was nothing out of the ordinary. Our 10-year-old did not. He, naturally, could not keep himself from staring at the man, repeatedly pointing out that there really was a gunman standing a few feet away from us — and that this was not normal. We quietly told him that he, of course, was right, but we also told him he really needed to stop staring at the man, whose disapproving scowls made clear that he did not appreciate our son's attention.

When the representative finally came back with the documents, we quietly informed him that there was a man carrying a gun in the dealership. He sighed and in a hushed voice said he knew and resented it because it frightened everyone else, but there was nothing he could do about it as Virginia was a so-called open-carry state, and that meant people were allowed to walk around with their guns on display.

Michael Knigge

Michael Knigge reports for DW from Washington, DC

Less than four months later, I was part of what seemed like a media mob that descended onto Sutherland Springs, a forlorn hamlet in Texas, to cover a mass shooting in a church that left 26 people dead. Aside from updating the number of casualties and speculating about the gunman's motive, there was little of real news value to report. What struck me was a strong feeling of numbness that seemed to emanate from almost everyone there. Residents were shocked and grieving, but, when asked, almost in unison said that nothing could be done about this. It's just the way it is.

Better protected from snow than bullets

Schools across the Washington area closed for a "snow day" two days ago because the driving conditions were deemed too dangerous for the public school buses. Kids could get hurt.

The snow that came down then was in many places just a dusting that in Germany would never have led to schools' being closed in the first place. While it may have seemed overly cautious, it is actually a policy that makes sense and ultimately protects lives. Better safe than sorry, as the saying goes.

USA Washington Blizzard Schneesturm (Reuters/J.Ernst)

More is done in Washington to prevent school bus accidents than school shootings

But what struck me on that snowy day was that school children in the US seem to be better protected from snow than from bullets — as the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, demonstrated. But instead of trying to address the easy availability of guns in the United States as the root cause of gun violence, it is widely accepted that schools should not be "soft targets" and need to "hardened" by having more people with more guns to prevent massacres.

The compelling case for kids not getting shot in class

Which brings me to today's "March for Our Lives" in Washington, which I attended. To be honest, I was skeptical that this would change anything, even though I was deeply impressed by how the Parkland students responded to the horrible massacre that ravaged their community. They turned gun violence into an issue in a lucid and compelling way that has never been done before. More importantly, they have not let up in their effort to keep this issue alive every single day.

A person hold a sign reading Not One More at the March for our Lives(Reuters/E. Thayer)

Will the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting lead to change in US gun laws?

Still, I was skeptical, because, make no mistake, the influential National Rifle Association gun lobby and its political allies are used to waiting until the outrage over gun violence subsides and then carrying on with their mission, which, ultimately, is to turn the US into a society of armed citizens. And judging by their successful efforts to expand open-carry laws in many states, they have made good progress towards that aim.

But after attending the March for our Lives, I am less pessimistic that serious steps toward gun control are impossible. That is not only because of the massive crowd marching in Washington seemed very clear about its strategy, namely making politicians who oppose gun control pay politically by "voting them out," as a popular chant went at the march.

Time for a societal change

But also because the crowd gathered in Washington and around the country represented a large swath of society: families, high school and college students, professionals, retirees, people of different races and from different parts of the country. They all seemed very cognizant that the March for our Lives was not a one-off or an endpoint, but merely the beginning of a long struggle to make America safer.   

Thousand of people on the street during March For Our Lives rally in Washington, DC (Getty Images/A. Wong)

Everyone who took to the streets will need to keep pressing for gun reforms in the US

Whether that effort will ultimately succeed remains to be seen. But what the young people from Parkland and other kids around the country have achieved so far is already invaluable. Our children have grabbed us so-called adults by the shoulders and shaken us out of our complacency and chipped away at the jadedness that lets us accept as normal what clearly is not — namely that the freedom to own and carry guns is more important than the lives of other people. This is a warped sense of freedom and warped sense of society.

Stating that over and over again — loud and clear as happened in Washington — is the first step towards a better society.  Because, of course, it is not normal that children die of gun violence in a civilized society like the United States.

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