School shooting shouldn’t erase teenage normalcy

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A month and a half ago, an angry, messed-up young man entered a high school in Florida, pulled a fire alarm and started shooting people as they emerged from classrooms. The aftermath included 17 dead, another 17 wounded and a whole lot of traumatized students and staff.

It also ushered in a now-familiar political battle. The conflict between the right to bear arms and the safety of the public tends to be contentious anyway, but with every school shooting (a phrase we devoutly wish had never had to be coined), it suddenly becomes intensely personal.

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School practically begged to be exploited for political gain. At a time when every issue, no matter how tangential, swells into a moral crisis and every argument takes place in the goldfish bowl of social media, what would otherwise be a tragic crime has fueled a screaming match between political enemies. But unlike so many other incidents of this kind, the actual victims (or at least people who were present) are taking a prominent part in the debate. It’s not pretty.

A contingent of MSD students, led by David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez, have been very emphatic in their calls for stricter gun control. Predictably, political movers and shakers have taken up their cause and made it high-profile, showcasing them at rallies and plastering them all over the news media.

This leaves opponents in the unenviable position of having to choose between allowing themselves to be silenced or taking verbal shots at children who have already been traumatized. Some have taken the latter option to disgusting lengths, like the Maine Republican who called Gonzalez a “skinhead lesbian.” But no matter how carefully critics speak, any negative statement can be decried as “bullying.”

We think both sides need to get a grip. Gun control activists want to turn the MSD students into the prophets of a new generation, the moral force which will finally bring about the gun-free utopia of which they’ve dreamed for so long. Gun rights advocates see the same students as detergent-eating stooges, mouthing the words of their left-wing puppet masters.

In reality, they are neither. They’re teenagers, just like millions of others in this country. Being at the forefront of a hot-button issue does not make them stupid, nor does it automatically confer wisdom beyond their years. They have the fiery passion of youth, mixed with the naiveté that comes with lack of life experience. Their worries should center around proms and grades and college applications and zits, not press conferences and smear campaigns. Yes, they represent the future, but so does every generation. Their feelings and opinions, while valid now, will evolve as they grow older just like everybody else’s.

They are not superheroes, they are not dupes and they are not (or should not be) pawns in the political games of their elders. Listen to what they have to say, then let them go back to being what they are.

Kids.

— Editorial Board

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