Braden: Our job is to protect our children

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Sometimes the best way to protect our children is to empower them.

There should be no doubt that getting guns out of dangerous hands will save lives, but the NRA and their surrogates try to deny that and instead float preposterous, diversionary ideas like arming teachers. The NRA used to be representative of its members, but now it represents the interests of gun manufacturers and uses manipulating tactics to sell more guns. We should not be debating arming teachers any more than we should debate whether small business owners should be the ones doing open heart surgery on their employees or whether we should line our parks with landmines. It's ridiculous and a distraction.

Instead we should be supporting the students who want to speak out on this issue — and listening to what they're saying. If they want to walk out of school on March 14, no one should stand in their way. A walkout is a statement of their power, of their worth, and of the importance of their voices. The Vermont Secretary of Education may have sent a memo to school districts discouraging walkouts, but as a former social studies teacher I can think of no better way to encourage civic engagement than giving them space to make a statement about what they believe.

Moreover, one of the reasons we haven't seen more gun law reform is because many people who support it haven't yet been willing to take a stand publicly. Here are teenagers ready to step up and ensure that lawmakers can no longer ignore this issue that affects their lives. Let's do everything we can to support them.

I've started collecting open letters from children's authors for the students speaking out. Knowing what it can be like on the front lines of this issue, I want them to know that there is respect and support for them in many corners. All of the letters are posted at www.kidlitforkidslives.org, but here are excerpts of a few

Vermont author Jo Knowles writes, "Dear Brave and Determined Students ... You are inspiring all of us to try again, no matter the odds. You are giving us hope. It's not enough to tweet our disapproval, or to post angry Facebook memes. We need to stand up, speak out, and march."

Children's author Liz Garton Scanlon writes, "What I remember about being a kid — being a teen — is that grown ups looked down on us ... What I want you to know now is that we are looking UP at you."

Author/illustrator Brian Lies writes, "Ignore the hatred as much as you can. Remember that fear is often the motivation for hate. Carry on through the days when it feels as though nobody is listening. You're doing something new, something unprecedented."

YA Author Carrie Jones writes, "You teach us that angels exist in hallways and classrooms. And podiums and behind microphones. And holding doors and speaking truths."

Author Janet Fox writes, "You are the Mockingjay. You are Starr. You are Martin, and you are bringing Martin's dream. We will follow you."

As the CEO of Dick's Sporting Goods wrote when they announced their decision to make changes to their policies around selling guns (that has since sparked a wave of other major retailers to do the same), "If the kids in Parkland are being brave enough to stand up and do this, we can be brave enough to stand up with them."

Here in Vermont we are experiencing a sea change. Between students filling the statehouse and the governor having the courage to change his stance and take the lead, a critical mass of lawmakers are finally showing the motivation to tackle this. On Thursday, Universal Background Checks passed the Senate 17-13 as an amendment to S. 55. The day before, the Extreme Risk Protection Order bill (S. 221) passed the Senate with a vote of 30-0. The next hurdle is two-fold: to make sure House members know how many of their constituents support these measures; and to make sure the Senate also passes the domestic violence gun bill (H.422) that passed the House last session.

We cannot let the NRA distract us from what we know is true: that a society's most important role is to take care of its children. That we are clearly failing to do that. That strengthening the system of laws that helps keep guns out of dangerous hands would save lives.

Thankfully, we have managed to raise children who have the courage to stand up to the NRA and fight for what they believe. May the students recognize the power they have when they speak up. May they keep speaking up against injustice of all kinds from here on out. And may we all follow their lead.

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