Editorial: Students' lesson on courage and guns that leaders should heed

This is a day to think about courage and gun policy.

At 10 a.m. today, students at numerous suburban high schools have scheduled an organized walkout to call attention to the need for more controls on weapons that can make life unsafe for them or for anyone who attends a public gathering or event. They will leave their classes for 17 minutes in salute to the 17 people killed by a gunman using an assault weapon at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14.

Many of the students who participate will face disciplinary measures when they return to school. They will participate anyway. Perhaps there are messages beyond the issue of gun violence in that act - both for the students and for adults. There are consequences to breaking the rules in order to effect change. Sometimes breaking rules is the only way to effect change.

Two hundred miles to the south, Illinois state senators will have a chance to show some courage as well. It will not be a particularly stirring display of valor when many of them, heeding a call issued last week by Grayslake Democratic Sen. Melinda Bush, walk out of session in solidarity with the students. Indeed, it may feel more like grandstanding than standing up for a cause - though lawmakers who take money from the National Rifle Association could certainly make a statement if they join.

More important will be what senators do with the rest of their day.

Before leaving on recess, state representatives in the House approved and sent to the Senate three gun control bills it could take up today - just before beginning a three-week recess of its own. One forbids the sale of assault weapons and ammunition to anyone under 21 years old. One prohibits the sale or possession of bump stocks and trigger cranks that can effectively turn semi-automatic weapons into machine guns. One imposes a three-day waiting period on the sale of an assault weapon.

These are hardly heroic measures - especially for a Democrat-controlled legislative body. But they can make a broader statement. They can tell the teenagers who are finally giving the nation its backbone on gun legislation that they are paying at least a little bit of attention. They can put Gov. Bruce Rauner - a proud NRA member who on Tuesday vetoed a bill requiring state licensing of gun dealers - on notice that he cannot expect always to sidestep meaningful measures to control the proliferation and use of weapons whose sole purpose is the killing of human beings. They can signal that more substantive measures may be in the offing.

These would be statements of some merit in a political atmosphere that for years has been controlled by the gun lobby. Courage? Maybe not. It's not exactly the stock in trade of politicians. But it's a start. It's something to think about on this important day. Many students at our high schools will serve detentions or endure other punishments for standing up for their beliefs today. What punishment, one wonders, will our leaders suffer for having so timidly failed to stand up for so long?

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