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Editorial: Students will transform the gun debate

The nationwide student protests to demand action to curb gun violence proved one thing: We've entered a new era in the gun debate. At schools all around the country, tens of thousands of students walked out of schools in an impressive demonstration of the determination of young people to do what adults have failed to do—take real steps to help prevent mass shootings, especially in our schools. The National School Walkout, which is the first of three mass protests planned to clamor for action on gun violence, is believed to represent the largest national, student-waged protest movement since the protests against the Vietnam War in the late 1960s.

In Fargo-Moorhead, hundreds of students took part, including an estimated 300 students at Davies High School in Fargo and an estimated 100 students at Moorhead High School. In other schools, such as Oak Grove High School and Shanley High School, only a handful of students walked out of classrooms in solidarity with students across the country. Local students carried signs: "Fear has no place in schools!!" and "How many more will it take?" Not far away, about half the student body of Red Lake (Minn.) High School's student body participated. Thirteen years ago, a high school student at Red Lake High shot seven people and wounded five more before taking his own life—a spree that began with the murders of his grandfather and grandfather's girlfriend.

The spark for the student protests, of course, came from the Feb. 14 slaughter of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. In a nation that has become numb to mass shootings, the students in Parkland vowed that this time would be different. And it shows every sign of introducing a new era in the public discussion—one that, so far, has been thwarted by the outsized influence of the gun lobby, notably the National Rifle Association. The politically savvy gun lobby has been able to prevent sensible gun controls because its members are highly engaged and organized. Although large majorities of people—even gun owners, even Republicans—favor stricter gun laws, including universal background checks and banning assault-style weapons, they have not been very organized or vocal.

The massive National School Walkout proves that has changed. The students are making a difference. Under pressure from the students, Florida passed its first new gun restrictions in more than two decades, including requiring gun buyers to be at least 21, a three-day waiting period to buy a gun, and a system to allow police to seize a gun from someone deemed dangerous. Other states have passed or are debating new gun laws. And more protests are planned, including a massive March 24 march in Washington and another April 20, the anniversary of the school shooting in Columbine, Colo.

The political equation is starting to change. These students are future voters, and they are motivated. A student in Michigan carried a warning sign: "Politicians & lawmakers we are coming for your jobs!"

Editorials represent the views of Forum management and the Editorial Board.