Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.,...

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., board buses on Monday, Feb. 20, 2018, before going to Tallahassee to appeal to state lawmakers for gun controls. Credit: EPA-EFE / REX / Shutterstock / Cristobal Herrera

These students feel they are fighting for their lives.

In the wake of last week’s school attack in Florida, teens are demanding an end to the mass killings that so often target them as victims. That passion is reshaping the debate, mobilizing their elders and inspiring hope that our nation can break out of its paralysis on gun violence.

These students, most not old enough to legally buy a beer, are putting the National Rifle Association and its supporters on notice that they will take their fight to the streets and the legislative halls. Shamefully, those who front for the NRA’s goals of unrestricted access to weapons are demonizing this generation, which has had enough.

Last week, 17 people were shot to death by a teen gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida. It is a scene the nation has seen repeatedly, yet one that played out as never before. These students were texting, tweeting, Instagramming and posting video even as shots were fired. And they haven’t stopped.

The nation, especially the students’ contemporaries, experienced their fear, anger and courage in real time. And when it was over, the nation began to hear these students’ furious demands for change in real time, too. Stoneman Douglas students who survived spoke out on Saturday, and the nation heard. Emma Gonzalez said, “We call B.S.” to the argument that nothing can be done. David Hogg exhorted the crowd to, “Get out there and vote.”

The pro-gun forces have tried to discredit these kids as Democratic plants or stooges of activist parents. It’s a move that’s been effective only in unmasking the critics’ cynicism and desperation.

Now President Donald Trump, who relies on gun supporters as well as his keen sense of public opinion, says he supports improving federal background checks. By late Tuesday, he had ordered the Justice Department to propose regulations to ban bump stocks, which increase the rate of gunfire in semiautomatic weapons like the one used to kill 58 people in Las Vegas in October.

A group called Teens for Gun Reform held a “lie-in” near the White House on Monday that featured 17 young people lying on the ground as if dead for three minutes to symbolize how long it took Nikolas Cruz to kill that many people.

A student walkout is set for noon Wednesday. Another is planned for March 14, one month after Parkland. The March for Our Lives is planned for March 24 in Washington. And on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the shootings in Columbine, Colorado, the school massacre that kicked off this cycle of pain, a walkout is planned that has attracted the pledged support of tens of thousands of students.

The United States doesn’t have to lead the world in mass shootings, gun suicides, gun homicides or the ease with which people planning mayhem can acquire firearms. This can change via tougher laws and healthier attitudes. As the young people who will inherit this nation demand that change, we must listen, and it must come. 

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