“I’m not old enough to vote but I’m old enough to get shot,” say the students agitating for gun control in the United States. The same, of course, can be said about nuclear weapons. We are old enough to be incinerated by an atomic bomb.
There are quite a few similarities between the struggle against guns and the struggle against the bomb. The violent, militarized masculinities associated with gun violence are the same associated with the acquisition, use, and threats of use of nuclear weapons. The privileging of “gun rights” above the rights of human beings to live in safety and security is similar to the privileging of the possession and modernization of nuclear weapons above the lived experience of those who have suffered from the use and testing of nuclear weapons and the reality of the impacts any future use of nuclear weapons will have on our bodies, our cities, our societies, and our planet. The NRA’s favored line that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” is pretty similar to the claim by supporters of nuclear-deterrence theory that nuclear weapons “in the right hands” are meant to stop others from acquiring or using nuclear weapons. The outrageous responses to gun violence and the threat of nuclear war are pretty much the same, too. Instead of gun control, let’s arm teachers and prepare kids with active-shooter drills. Instead of nuclear disarmament, let’s build bomb shelters and practice duck and cover.
The main difference between guns and nuclear weapons, other than the scale of destruction that one weapon can cause, is that, across the country, students are bleeding and dying in their schools right now from gun violence. This lived experience has no parallels. Even with the current president’s threats of “fire and fury,” the fear of nuclear war is not nearly as resonant as it was for preceding generations of the atomic age. But this could change in a heartbeat.
The good news is that, as the United States celebrates youth leadership in the movement to end gun violence in the nation, there is a global anti-weapons movement that has nurtured youth leadership for far longer, from which we all can learn a great deal.
The value of intergenerational efforts
The antinuclear movement has a rich, creative history, with which youth have always been involved. Lately, it may not be a mass movement of students hitting the streets, but there has been critical engagement from young people in the work to have non-nuclear-armed states negotiate a treaty banning nuclear weapons. This is in large part due to the deliberate efforts of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) to build and sustain an intergenerational, transnational network of activists advocating and agitating for the ban.