Constable: This is how we get gun change

  • Demonstrators participate in a "lie-in" during a protest in favor of gun control reform in front of the White House in the wake of the shooting that killed 17 at a Florida high school.

    Demonstrators participate in a "lie-in" during a protest in favor of gun control reform in front of the White House in the wake of the shooting that killed 17 at a Florida high school. Associated Press

  • The mourning survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting quickly turned into leaders in the movement to change the way we treat guns in this country.

    The mourning survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting quickly turned into leaders in the movement to change the way we treat guns in this country. Associated Press

 
 
Posted3/1/2018 5:30 AM

Achieving change in the United States is like bursting through a brick wall. The barrier seems impossible to overcome. But a few leaders, radicals or young people seeking change methodically pull bricks from the wall. Society doesn't see any change. The wall still stands. Then one day, enough bricks have been removed that the wall topples.

The wall surrounding guns is coming down now, and that tipping-point brick was yanked out by the students who spoke out after the Valentine's Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people.

 

"We have heard you. The nation has heard you," said Dick's Sporting Goods CEO Edward Stack on Wednesday. And just like that, one of the largest retail stores in the nation will no longer sell assault-style rifles, will no longer sell any firearms to someone under age 21, and will no longer sell high-capacity magazines, bump stocks or any devices that make killing easier for mass murderers with guns. Later in the day, Walmart restricted sales of guns and ammo. Other businesses, apparently sensing the same vibe, pulled their support away from the National Rifle Association, which is trying to stop change from coming.

"Bans do nothing to but infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens," the NRA tweeted after Dick's announcement, the garbled "to but" phrase emphasizing how easy it is to misfire when it comes to fighting change. The federal government and many state legislatures no doubt will be slow to pick up on the change sweeping our nation. That's also part of the way Americans make change.

Some people in the 1960s thought we'd never see an America where a black person could use the same drinking fountain as a white person. Imagine their surprise when we elected Barack Obama president of the United States in their lifetime. In a 1958 Gallup poll, only 4 percent of Americans approved of interracial marriage. By 1983, our nation was equally divided on that issue. Now that question is so racist, it would be as ludicrous to ask how Americans feel about nonwhites marrying whites as it would be to ask how we feel about giving females the vote, which also wasn't a popular idea when it surfaced.

At the start of our brave, new century, a Pew Research poll found that 57 percent of Americans thought same-sex marriage should not be allowed. In 2010, more Americans (48 percent) opposed same-sex marriage than favored (42 percent) it. By 2017, Americans who supported same-sex marriage (62 percent) outnumbered opponents (32 percent) by a margin of nearly two to one.

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Change happens when the fear and panic of change subsides. When opponents realized that giving women the vote didn't ruin families, expose women to the rough atmosphere of polling places or result in any more "silly" election results than the country was used to, the opposition subsided. The same thing happened when racial laws fell and none of the fears were realized about the prospect of a white man playing checkers with a black man, a Chinese woman marrying a white guy, or children of many colors sharing a public swimming pool. Banning assault-type weapons and high-capacity magazines, improving background checks and making it more difficult for people with criminal intent to buy guns isn't going to stop law-abiding Americans from defending their homes, shooting targets and clay pigeons for fun, or hunting deer and ducks.

Businesses, whether they are motivated by morals or a desire to appeal to the majority of customers, help lead the way. Dick's, which has stores in Arlington Heights, Schaumburg, Vernon Hills, Deer Park and Glenview, is ahead of the curve.

Every mass shooting -- from Columbine to Virginia Tech, from Sandy Hook to a Texas church, from Orlando to Las Vegas -- tugged at the bricks in the wall keeping us from gun control. The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School finished the job.

"To think about the loss and the grief that those kids and those parents had, we said, 'We need to do something,'" Stack said in announcing his store's change. "We have to help solve the problem that's in front of us. Gun violence is an epidemic."

A generation from now, we'll take that change for granted.

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