“There is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre,” Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Slaughterhouse-Five half a century ago. Every time another school shooting fills America’s screens, Republican (and some Democratic) legislators in the NRA’s pocket have done their best to prove Vonnegut right, starting with a terminology that makes them resemble crash-test dummies temporarily granted very limited powers of speech.

From the widely reviled “thoughts and prayers” and “Now isn’t the time to talk about gun control” to the ultimate cop-out—“Let’s not politicize a tragedy”—their burbling is designed to neutralize and dehumanize the event, not react to it in any meaningful or useful way. In case you think we’re being cynical, try this experiment: Whenever a pro-gun talking head calls a mass shooting a “tragedy,” substitute the word “massacre” instead. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes, because of course passing laws to prevent tragedies sounds ridiculous. Action to prevent massacres, on the other hand, sounds a lot like a basic government responsibility (unless you’re living in Syria).

The fact that it’s taken a bunch of teenage survivors of Nikolas Cruz’s rampage at Parkland’s Margery Stoneman Douglas High School last week to finally prove Vonnegut wrong is as depressing as it is prophetic. Once 18-year-old Emma Gonzalez’s impassionated “We call B.S.” speech at a memorial rally in Fort Lauderdale last Saturday went viral, she and and a handful of her schoolmates became the public faces, literally overnight, of America’s youngest-in-every-sense movement: organized rage at lawmakers’ seeming indifference toward kids’ chances of getting gunned down at school by a warped soul toting an AR-15.

By Sunday, Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky, David Hogg, Alex Wind and Jaclyn Corin were being interviewed by Chuck Todd on Meet The Press, and they were determined, not docile. They spoke about the “March For Our Lives” demonstration they’re organizing in Washington, D.C., next month and the need to hold NRA-backed politicians’ feet to the fire.

By Tuesday, their “Never Again MSD” Facebook page had more than 100,000 followers. By Wednesday, thousands of high-schoolers had joined walkouts in solidarity with Parkland’s survivors nationwide, in some cases despite threats of disciplinary action if they did, with more upcoming. That includes the two mass ones scheduled for March 14 and April 20, the latter being the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shootings that first put the country on notice that its schools were potential killing zones. By Wednesday evening, affected students were staring down Florida Senator Marc Rubio and NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch in a CNN televised townhall, an energized crowd of adults cheering them on like adults have never cheered on teens before.

One reason NRA-backed legislators ought to be anxious is that 18-year-olds can vote.

Not much of anything has been done since Columbine to stop school shootings from happening, and nobody can predict whether this time will be different. But what’s obviously new is that is that the people most at risk are taking the lead in confronting power to call for change—articulately, resolutely and (yes) telegenically. There probably hasn’t been a comparable student movement since Vietnam days, and the odds are that it’s no flash in the pan.

Their first encounters with power have mostly showed what they’re up against, though. The three busloads of Parkland survivors who headed to Tallahassee on Tuesday to demand less toothless gun-control laws had barely gotten on the road when the Florida legislature voted against even considering an assault-weapon ban before the current session’s end, stunning the handful of MSD students who’d already made it to the state capitol.

Their meetings with lawmakers the next day made very little headway. But it says a lot about their emerging clout that they got those meetings at all. Except for Governor Rick Scott, who makes a specialty out of callous odiousness, nobody was willing to blow the Parkland kids off just days after their classmates had gotten blown away.

Meanwhile, in Washington, another group of students and parents—not all of them from Parkland—got an exceedingly rare public sit-down to share their feelings and opinions with President Trump, who’s notoriously averse to dealing with anyone he can’t count on to be sycophantic, especially when TV cameras are running. Unsurprisingly, Trump didn’t respond to their concerns all that effectively. He wanted to know what they thought of arming teachers to blast back at school shooters, an idea just about guaranteed to make any future violent classroom shambles even worse.

By Thursday, back in his familiar Twitter mode, he was crowing up teachers packing heat as the ideal solution, and praising NRA head Wayne LaPierre and executive director Chris W. Cox as “Great American Patriots” in the bargain. Nonetheless, he was also advocating banning bump stocks, improving background checks and raising the age limit on some gun sales, all of which are anathema to the NRA. Besides, no matter how fleeting his support for any of these moves is likely to be, the spectacle of Trump listening (or affecting to listen) to ordinary Americans with a bone to pick was virtually unprecedented in this administration.

That was one sign that even the denizens of Trumplandia are feeling some trepidation about the shift in mood. Another was the frantic intensity of gun-rights zealots’ attempts to discredit and smear the MSG student leaders as “crisis actors” who’d been coached by left-wing Svengalis, or clandestinely bankrolled by George Soros, or both. David Hogg in particular got singled out for the cuckoo-conspiracy treatment because his father’s a retired FBI agent—which, in right-wing circles, is practically the equivalent of membership in the Communist Party right now. The whiff of panic at the prospect of these kids turning out to be gun-control game-changers has been unmistakable.

One reason NRA-backed legislators ought to be anxious is that 18-year-olds can vote. As a rule, not many of them do, but nobody knows how much they’ll be energized by a cause that affects them this directly. That’s just what the congressional GOP needs: yet another new constituency with a motive to vote them out in November. Whether or not there’s anything intelligent to say about a massacre, it’s rapidly beginning to look as if there are all sorts of intelligent things we can do about them. This time, for a change, at least a few of those might even get done—all thanks to a generation their elders too often write off.