Two opposite approaches are emerging in response to the school walkouts and demonstrations that followed last month’s mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., in which a man admitted murdering 17 people at his former high school. One is the “and the children shall lead them” response, which argues that adults somehow need the innocent honesty of children — particularly the survivors of the killing — to tell the nation how to solve the problem of gun violence.
At its extreme, this faux naiveté is a cynical tactic to advance the gun control agenda. But this cynicism pales in comparison to the chutzpah of the opposite approach. On his Fox News show last week, Tucker Carlson asked why kids who are “too young to be buying guns” should be allowed to “make [his] gun laws.” This bit of pro-gun sophistry was a transparent attempt to change the subject, and really made no sense.
And yet, the students protesting gun violence, despite their feared unripe understanding of policy, have managed to upend the conversation, which for years has returned to and been stopped by the question of gun rights. The student protesters have found an equally compelling problem that needs solving.
Having turned this from a gun rights issue into a safety issue, the school-age protestors have reminded Americans, many of whom are parents, that the safety of children needs to be considered carefully in any conversation about guns. And that is so not just in the relatively rare occurrences of mass school shootings, but also in the daily outrage of gun deaths around the country.
Thousands of students from schools across the United States participated in the 17-minute school walkout on March 14 — one minute for each life taken at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The protest captured the national spotlight. But for some Jewish students and Jewish schools, the decision of whether to walk out became complicated because of the organizers’ ties to bigotry against Jews and LGBTQ individuals. Some Jewish students and schools chose not to participate because the protest had initially been planned by the Women’s March movement, whose co-chair Tamika Mallory attended an anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ speech by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan just last month.
The student protests against gun violence continue, with the March for Our Lives taking place in Pittsburgh and other cities around the country on Saturday, March 24.
Will the walkouts and marches lead to change when it comes to gun violence?
Since the massacre at Columbine in 1999, when Bill Clinton was president, the nation has been wrestling with how to protect its school children from guns. Now, many of those children are marching, walking out and lying down to bring more attention to the issue, and to plea for change. Schools have thus had to grapple with behavior that at once disrupts the order of their institutions, but is at the same time a walking, marching lab experiment in American democracy and nonviolent protest.
As the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. approaches, such protests are a reminder of how much change can be made through a determined yet peaceful approach, and the magnitude of the work that still needs to be done. PJC