“This generation of students has an instinct for humanity that may help redress what many of their elders concede is an imbalance in American life.” So TIME wrote in a cover story 50 years ago profiling young leaders from the class of 1968. “The year of student power,” we called it then, in a phrase that might just as well apply to this week’s story about the students in Parkland, Fla., whose justifiable anger and grit have jolted the dormant gun debate from its sleep.
In a matter of five weeks, the young voices of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have changed minds and even laws. Florida, Rhode Island and Oregon tightened gun restrictions. Giant retailers stopped selling assault-style weapons. Longtime corporate partners ended relationships with the National Rifle Association. And hundreds of thousands of people are expected to flood the streets on March 24 for March for Our Lives, an event conceived and organized by kids. As my own children’s head of school put it in a letter to shaken parents, “We are all going to school at Stoneman Douglas.”
America’s gun-violence epidemic is complex, and won’t be solved quickly. Clearly the Second Amendment doesn’t require that a gun be easier to obtain than a driver’s license; the Constitution’s drafters feared tyranny, but they also feared chaos. And yet reform efforts are doomed if safe and responsible gun owners (I come from a family of them myself) are shut out of the discussion.
One of history’s rhymes is that social change begins with the young; another is that change will be imperfect. “Partial victory” is how Brian Weiss, the student featured on that 1968 cover (right), now describes his generation’s efforts. But in the face of unremitting gun violence in the most developed country on earth–more than 90% of the people under 25 killed by firearms in all high-income countries are from the U.S.–inaction is inexcusable.
Young people know this instinctively. TIME national correspondent Charlotte Alter, who reported and wrote this week’s cover story, says it well: “This story isn’t just about guns. This story is about kids.” And, I would add, about hope.
Edward Felsenthal is the Editor-in-Chief of TIME.
This appears in the April 02, 2018 issue of TIME.