Editorial: Marches for gun safety must go on, all the way to November

It is nothing short of inspiring to see high school students by the thousands march out of their classrooms and into the streets and into the halls of government in Tallahassee, into the White House, into America’s living rooms via television, demanding that this nation’s leaders finally get real about gun violence — the gun violence these students feel is hunting them down.

Led by the grieving yet steely survivors of the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 14 students and three staff members dead, this generation of teenagers is mad as hell, not going to take it anymore, and showing they’re astoundingly effective speakers for the kind of meaningful gun safety measures that seemed, until just 10 days or so ago, absolutely unimaginable.

The public is with them. A Quinnipiac Poll on Thursday showed that 67 percent of Americans favor a nationwide ban on assault rifles, against 29 percent opposed. Support for stricter gun laws is up 19 points in little more than two years.

FULL COVERAGE: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting

The students have even cracked open the issue in Florida, the so-called “Gunshine State” that’s long been a laboratory for the National Rifle Association, the state that brought the nation Stand Your Ground, the state whose 1.6 million concealed-carry permits outnumber anyone else’s.

Now – suddenly, unexpectedly – the Legislature dominated by Republicans who brandish their NRA “A” ratings and Gov. Rick Scott (A+) are grimly talking up safety. In press conferences Friday, the governor and legislative leaders offered largely similar slates of proposals, including raise the age limit to 21 from 18, a restriction opposed by the NRA; banning the sale of “bump stocks;” enabling courts to prohibit a violent or mentally ill person from buying or possessing a firearm; boosting mental-health services for students, and doing more to flag potentially at-risk students.

Most people would call these steps obvious and overdue, but for Florida lawmakers, they approach the breaking of taboos.

Scott wants to place law enforcement officers in every school — but not, he said, to arm teachers. Legislators want to allow teachers who go through extensive training and work under the direction of law-enforcement agencies to be able to carry concealed weapons at schools. A cockamamie idea, in our view, that will only add to the contagion of guns going off when they shouldn’t be.

Left untouched is the most effective measure lawmakers can take, and the one they’re afraid to go anywhere near: banning the kinds of assault rifles that were so deadly not only in Parkland, but at Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Las Vegas and Orlando.

But don’t think change isn’t happening. Remarkably, all four Democrats running for governor this year are now calling for an assault weapons ban. So does Sen. Bill Nelson, up for reelection.

Mega-fundraiser Al Hoffman Jr., of North Palm Beach, who has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for Republican candidates, now says, “I will not write a check for anyone who does not propose a ban on assault-style weapons.”

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, a longtime NRA member, says  he wants future sales of assault rifles banned.

No Republican candidates for statewide office are talking this way — although one, Adam Putnam, scrubbed his website of his boast that he’s a “proud NRA sellout.”

All of a sudden, in other words, it looks like the landscape of Florida’s political races for 2018 has been blasted and reshaped. Gun control, of all things, is a major issue. Maybe the deciding issue.

Kids: You did this.

Don’t stop now.

A lot of you who found your voices last week and who marched out of your classrooms will turn 18 before November. You must register to vote. Those of you who are younger can encourage as many people as possible to vote.

You must keep on marching — all the way to the voting booths in November.

It’s imperative to vote out the many Florida politicians — no matter their political affiliation — who kowtow to the gun lobby and replace them with people who value the rights of children to live out their lives over the rights of a gun-lover to own unlimited armaments.

We must have leaders in this state who are adamant that weapons of war have no place in civil society, and who will act with urgency to start getting rid of them.

We can get those leaders.

Keep marching.

Better yet, vote.

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