Ian Berlin | Maret School (High School Junior who attended March for Our Lives)
1/850,000 is a minuscule number. But standing on Pennsylvania Avenue during the March For Our Lives on March 24th, being one out of 850,000 was profound. The issue of gun violence prevention is not a new one to me – following the Sandy Hook school shooting, I worked on the March on Washington for Gun Control in January 2013. I filmed and edited all of the media uploaded to that march’s YouTube channel. I was 12 at the time.
A few years later, as a freshman in high school, I had the opportunity to lobby both of my Maryland senators and my representative on any issue I wanted as part of a program through the reform Jewish movement’s Religious Action Center. I chose gun reform. Now, as a junior in high school, even though it took yet another senseless and preventable tragedy, I am filled with great hope and optimism seeing the wave of activism currently sweeping country. I’ve never been more proud to be one in 850,000.
I started my day of activism around ten blocks from Pennsylvania Avenue with around 1000 other Jews for a special Saturday morning service, exploring the Jewish perspective on social justice and gun violence prevention. The ideas conveyed at the service – along with the fact that my 81-year-old grandfather, a retired rabbi, joined us for the day – made my experience even more meaningful. To march with three generations of my family, including relatives visiting from Philadelphia, made me even prouder. By speaking up and making my voice heard on this issue, I continued a tradition of activism in my family, which my grandfather started during the Civil Rights Movement.
It was also fitting that I happened to be standing right in front of the Newseum (a bastion of journalism and free speech) for the entirety of the event, whose facade is a five-story slab of stone engraved with the text of the First Amendment. It stood there throughout the day as a reminder of the very rights that allow such an event.
Along with the familiar faces, such as David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, and Emma González, the march did an incredible job of including voices of color. The organizers made sure that communities, where gun violence is a daily reality, were represented, along with survivors of mass shootings, something that has earned them much praise online. This was not just a token speech or two, to include diversity for the sake of diversity; these speeches nearly equaled the number of speeches by survivors of mass shootings. Additionally, the event was run impeccably well, with video screens and speakers set up all the way along Pennsylvania Avenue, bringing the speeches even to the participants many blocks away.
Some will argue that any of the legislation sought by young and old people alike would violate their constitutional rights. They believe that banning military grade assault weapons, high capacity magazines, and bump stocks, along with legislation that would raise the purchasing age to 21 and expand background checks are all barred by the Second Amendment. I won’t quip about a “well-regulated militia” or “18th-century weapons,” favorite arguments of many of my peers, because the Supreme Court already decided in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment extends to private ownership and weapons invented since it was ratified. Yet, just as importantly, the decision also affirmed that the right to bear arms can still be limited. And here lies the crux of my argument for common sense gun violence prevention legislation.
Neither I, nor the majority of my peers, believe that the right to bear arms is evil or should be revoked. I fully respect the right of a law-abiding citizen to own firearms for their own personal use, just as I equally respect the right of the government to put in place common-sense regulation. Regulation of rights protected by constitutional amendments is something I’m quite familiar with at the moment, as I’m currently in the process of planning the DC area events for the National School Walkout next month on April 20th. Despite my right to peacefully assemble and speak, I’ve still been required to file four permits with three police departments for an event that will occur within a one-mile radius. That said, I’m happy to fill out the paperwork and spend time on the phone with each police department because I understand that it is these very regulations that keep us safe. I understand that no personal freedom is without bounds when the safety of others is at risk, and it seems abundantly clear that gun violence in America is a matter of public safety.
Although it is heartening to see such engagement across the country surrounding gun violence prevention, the changes for which we are advocating are long overdue. The Columbine school shooting was 19 years ago – a year and a half before I was born. Since then, my entire generation has been born, come of age, completed most of our time in school, learned to drive, and begun registering to vote, all without any meaningful action by our elected officials. Also in that time, mass shootings have continued to devastate community after community, and still, Congress has stayed inactive. The message of the movement, highlighted at the March For Our Lives, was this: politicians have had 19 years to fix this issue. Now they have until November, or they will be voted out. I hope that this will finally be a tipping point
because it has taken far too long, and far too many lives have been lost.