LOS ANGELES - Hundreds of thousands of students took to the streets on Saturday to participate in the nationwide "March for Our Lives" demonstration, demanding tighter gun restrictions after a deadly Florida school shooting claimed 17 lives last month.
Organized by survivors of the rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14, the main rally was being held just steps away from the White House in Washington DC.
One of several Jewish groups participating in the event is the North American Federation of Temple Youth, who told The Jerusalem Post
that the protest presented an opportunity to affect real change in protecting the lives of students.
Americans in Israel join “March for Our Lives” protest for stricter gun control, March 23, 2018 (Reuters)
“For three years, NFTY, the youth movement of the Union for Reform Judaism, has been fighting for gun violence prevention,” NFTY President-elect Lila Greene wrote to the Post
in an email.
“The events in Parkland deeply affected our community, our congregations, and our children. Six weeks ago, we lost members of our own community, and this campaign took on new meaning.
“In the worst way possible, we understood what other communities were feeling when the same horrific event repeated itself, and we said, 'enough.' Our teens have mobilized like never before, and the rest of our community met them with unwavering support, being together all generations of the Reform Jewish movement,” she added.
A member of Temple Beth Am in Seattle, Washington, Greene, 22, said that the impact students are having on contemporary American culture is helping to marshal a watershed moment in the country, and expressed confidence the momentum will be carried into the future.
“These demonstrations are not only showing the stance teens are taking right now,” Greene remarked. “They are showing the priorities of our future voters.”
“In one, two, three years, these thousands of teens who are showing their dedication through marching now, will be the ones electing our government officials to represent an America that is free of gun violence,” she said.
The Washington rally was among 800 events scheduled worldwide, with US demonstrations set from San Clemente, California, to New York and Parkland.
Organizers want federal lawmakers to ban the sale of assault weapons like the one used in the Florida rampage and to tighten background checks for gun buyers.
Students say the protests are aimed at breaking through congressional gridlock that has long stymied efforts to tighten firearms controls.
But they openly worry that if reforms aren’t enacted soon, future slayings on school campuses will be met with tacit acceptance.
“It’s not unfamiliar and that’s what made me so mad,” March For Our Lives: NYC student organizer Kelly Rodgers, 18, lamented.
“It’s been normalized. I’ve never known a school environment where a mass shooting wasn’t considered as something that could be imminent. And instead of preventing the problem, people are accepting it,” she added.
Since the beginning of 2018, more than a dozen school shootings have been reported in the US, according to CNN.
Zachary Zabib, International President of United Synagogue Youth, said that the time for condolences and prayers was over, adding that lawmakers have a moral obligation to pass legislation that will restrict the relative ease of access to dangerous weapons.
“The politicians always say ‘thoughts and prayers’ after something. That doesn’t get anything done. How many times does it have to happen before we say enough is enough? We made it an immediate priority to get USY involved. The Jewish voice is one of pursuing justice and making a difference,” Zabib said.
NFTY says its top priority is advancing legislation that would place a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
“Weapons of war, like the AR-15 style guns used to commit mass murder in Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Aurora, Sandy Hook, and Parkland, belong on the battlefield, not in our backyards or schools,” said Greene.
Loopholes that allow people to buy guns without background checks, common at gun shows or private sales over the internet, should also be immediately closed, “which is essential in ensuring that they don’t fall into the wrong hands,” Greene added.
On the other side of the debate, gun rights advocates cite constitutional guarantees of the right to bear arms.
David Hogg, a senior at Stoneman Douglas, said the protests were a way for young Americans to show their opposition to the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun lobby.
“We’re asking people (to) put the USA over the NRA,” Hogg said.
An NRA spokeswoman said it had not taken a position on the protests. Reuters contributed to this report.