As soon as the brave and committed Parkland students revealed that “thoughts and prayers” would not be an adequate response to the mass shooting they lived through, ardent gun supporters set their sites on the kids. Social media provide ready access for offensive and outlandish claims.
So, opponents charge the students are not, in fact, students, but actors or plants, paid to undermine resistance to gun control;
or that the killing of 17 people at a public high school was fabricated, a “false flag” to justify gun control;
or that the kids, informed and articulate, are stooges of manipulative adults determined to foist gun control on the United States;
or that the traumatized students are understandably emotional, but certainly not able to offer wise policies on a complicated issues. (This last bit is from Bill O’Reilly, disgraced talking head, attacking young people in hopes of regaining a little public attention. I confess to a bit of schadenfreude to see him desperate for the spotlight.)
The strategy of discrediting the activists in a movement you don’t like as corrupt or naive is a familiar one, and the Parkland students have tried to prepare for it.
Remember, until the mass shooting, these kids weren’t in a gun control movement, they were preparing for AP exams, auditioning for student plays, waiting for admissions decisions from colleges, or working in student government. A tragedy reset their agendas, and they are responding heroically.
A core group of more than a dozen student leaders rallied around Cameron Kasky’s #NeverAgain idea, to support each other, and to make something useful of the tragedy they are living through. They camped out on the floor of Kasky’s living room, sharing information, reaction to their tweets, and developing strategy.
The leaders of this campaign are high school students, and they know every move they make will face extraordinary scrutiny. Although they understood common sense ideas about how to make schools safer through gun control, they are studying the issues so that they never make a public mistake. They are earnest and informed in way that should shame many politicians, certainly including the president.
But they are teens; I expect that most have said something frivolous or posted a stupid picture online. I expect that trolls are digging, looking for material to embarrass them. But the more important point is their purposeful action, taking responsibilities that high school students shouldn’t have to shoulder.
The first activist responders inspired other Parkland students, and other students in high schools across the United States, who are organizing their own campaigns. Today, when Donald Trump pretended to listen to a select group of survivors who demanded action, students across the country walked out of their classrooms to support the Parkland kids and #NeverAgain. Some marched to Washington, DC, or to their state capitals.
Meanwhile, Stoneman-Douglas students rode buses to Tallahassee, to demand their state legislators respond to their pain and their concerns. First steps are so obvious, that the sharp rejection they received must have been disheartening.
If the activists can keep going, they will take more flack, politicians will respond, but they will offer as little as they possibly can. Trump’s initial response, offering support for a bump stock ban, and streamlining the transmission of background information among government authorities. The National Rifle Association doesn’t oppose these bills, modest positive steps toward safety.
The #NeverAgain students know they need more, and will have to work hard for a long time to make progress. Very wisely, they have focused on the NRA, demanding politicians reject its support. This is absolute, clear, and extremely sensible.
I hope that they won’t let opponents or allies talk the students off it.