Students rally in front of the White House. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)
Opinion writer

It matters not how many children, teenagers and families show up for Saturday’s “March for Our Lives” demonstration in our nation’s capital. Suffice to say, thousands are expected to take to the streets both here in Washington and in sister marches around the country.

Numbers don’t matter. Not as much as the reasons behind this mobilization of youths. How could they not step forward? All else has failed to stiffen the spines of elected officials who, in the face of gun lobby pressure, have lost the nerve to take action against the scourge of gun violence.

So, it falls to today’s young people to lead the way, just as youths of prior generations took it upon themselves to force America to face up to other national curses. They were driven by the spirit of protest.

That spirit was there in 1960 when four college students staged a sit-in at the whites-only lunch counter at a Woolworth’s store in Greensboro, N.C.

The spirit was there in the years that followed when both black and white students traveled together on buses and trains through the Deep South violating Jim Crow laws.

That same spirit was there in 1963 in Birmingham, Ala., when kids from elementary to high school marched out of their classrooms to protest racial discrimination, earning for themselves the title “Children’s Crusade of 1963.”

It was there when young people by the tens of thousands joined and often dominated protests against war in Southeast Asia, the nuclear arms race and the degradation of our environment.

And it is here today within youths who are taking the bold step to shake up a system and prick the consciences of adult political leaders too craven, indifferent or passive to lift a finger against a terror that could take away the lives of their own children and grandchildren.

So, the young are taking matters into their own hands.

Again, why not? According to the Gun Violence Archive, thus far in 2018: 141 children (ages 0-11) have been killed or injured by guns; 588 teens (ages 12-17) have suffered the same fate. There have been 49 reported and verified mass shootings.

The national response to this carnage is almost as dreadful and disgusting as the gunplay itself.

Let’s start with the White House.

President Trump’s initial response to the Parkland, Fla., shooting massacre was self-absorbed and wide of the mark.

He tweeted on the Saturday following the shooting: “Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign - there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud.”

Trump’s tweet landed with a thud causing outrage among shooting survivors. Responded one student:

“17 of my classmates are gone. That’s 17 futures, 17 children, and 17 friends stolen. But you’re right, it always has to be about you. How silly of me to forget.”

But then Trump carried the affront one step further.

He staged a White House show in front of a bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers. With cameras blazing, Trump mouthed a bunch of stuff to make himself out to be a gun-control advocate. He told the guests and television audience that he wanted “comprehensive” gun-control legislation that would raise the legal age for buying assault-style weapons and close the loopholes in the background-check system. He even went so far as to express interest in California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s bill banning assault weapons. He seemed on his way to the other side.

But with the cameras and congressional members gone and following a “Come to Jesus” meeting with the NRA, Trump stepped back up on the curb.

Capitol Hill’s post-Parkland shooting performance was no better.

Lawmakers flooded the airwaves with news releases denouncing the shooting, expressing thoughts and prayers for the victims, survivors and families, and issuing calls for presidential leadership. To do what was left unaddressed. Oh yes, they passed legislation tweaking background checks, along with provisions allowing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct gun-violence research. But little else.

Students in town on Saturday to demand legislative action on gun violence will learn an invaluable lesson: Today’s Congress is the sanctuary city for the AR-15 and other favored firearms of mass killers.

“With us or against us?” was a question posed by a student in Parkland — a sentiment also expressed by my grandson, Henry, and granddaughter, Audrey, who participated in their high school’s walkout in New York.

A do-nothing Washington has given its answer.

So, march on, children, march on.

Read more from Colbert King’s archive.