When I heard about another random massacre at a school, I was pretty sure I knew what was going to happen next.

Nothing.

Some people would demand some mild form of gun control, maybe a ban on large magazines or a better background check system. Then others would rail about the Second Amendment and claim that a slippery slope toward total disarmament would result from these innocuous proposals.

We’d make all the familiar arguments and then we’d go back to doing what we had been doing before, and no one would be any safer.

But what if it was different this time? What if the traumatized but articulate student survivors of Parkland, Florida, did not just let us see their pain before leaving the stage in time for the next outrage? What if they demanded that we do something – and they didn’t stop until we did?

It doesn’t feel like the well-established pattern is about to be blown apart, but it never feels that way. It just happens. Maybe it will happen now.

If it does, it will be because the survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are innocent.

I don’t just mean that they didn’t deserve to be randomly shot at – no one does. But they are politically innocent. They are so far outside the process that most of them are too young to vote. They are not steeped in the back and forth of proposals and counterproposals and they are not burned out from the fight.

What they are is mad as hell. They are mostly mad at the National Rifle Association and the politicians who take the organization’s money and scuttle any attempt to keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them. But they are furious with all of us – the adults who have built this dangerous world where:

A deeply troubled teenager waving every red flag imaginable can walk into a gun store and buy an assault rifle.

The same kid can post about killing people on social media, freaking out enough people to prompt a call to an FBI tip line, yet still can’t be stopped.

Then he can walk into a school building and shoot for five minutes without encountering the armed guard on duty – the famous “good guy with a gun.”

And this is acceptable because we have a long tradition of gun ownership? Or because most gun owners are law abiding? Or because the only answer to gun violence is more guns?

You can see why Parkland survivor Emma Gonzalez shouts, “We call BS!

If anything is going to change, young people like Gonzalez will have to stay mad. They will have to meet the emotional intensity of gun owners, which does more to drive policy than just the money the NRA spends on elections.

If Gonzalez and others like her are going to re-frame the debate, they need to vote, not just in this election (if they’re old enough) but also the one after that and the one after that, the way the NRA supporters do.

That’s not going to be easy. Polls show that most Americans support moderate gun control, but the passion is all with the minority who don’t.

No victims could be more heartbreaking than the 20 first-graders who were gunned down in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. But in the months that followed, Congress could not agree even to tighten the background check law that makes it harder for felons and severely mentally ill people to buy guns.

Even after 59 people were gunned down at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas, Congress could not limit the sale of bump stocks – an after-market device that makes semi-automatic rifles fire in bursts.

In the current political climate, there is no limit on gun ownership that would be considered small enough by the NRA. It’s hard to imagine the decades-old current regulations on fully automatic weapons and sawed-off shotguns becoming law today.

The current group of policymakers won’t change their minds. They will have to be replaced with people who see the issue differently, and that’s the significance of the young activists getting their start in Parkland, Florida. They can keep this fight going a long time.

Nothing ever changes until it does.

I remember when it was considered rude to ask someone not to smoke in your house. I remember when politicians thought they would commit career suicide if they supported gay rights or same-sex marriage.

I remember when Hollywood producers could famously exploit aspiring actors without fear of reprisal.

All of those things have changed in what seems like an instant. And every time, we were all surprised.

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: gregkesich

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