On March 24, it is anticipated that tens of thousands – perhaps even hundreds of thousands — of students and adults will converge on Washington to demand that Congress do SOMETHING to address gun violence. They may demand a ban on bump stocks, although that is already in the works. They will demand a ban on assault rifles, although there is no such weapon. There are only automatic rifles (already banned) and semiautomatic weapons, which include most hunting and sports rifles and pistols. So, what is the SOMETHNG that can be done?
Apart from delving into the specific details of the gun and violence issues – and they are two different subjects — we should look at one of the descriptive themes of this future gathering. It is said this latest anti-gun movement is under the brave leadership of high school students – with the Parkland students in the fore.
Making non-adults a part of political protest movements has always been a controversial subject – and rightfully so. This is particularly true if the elementary and high schools endorse, encourage and participate in promoting youthful protest.
There are a lot of good reasons for concern. In a previous commentary, I argued that the reports of the articulateness of many of the senior Parkland students should come as no surprise. Young people are not without communication skills. They do, however, lack a depth of knowledge on the complexity of public issues. That is not to say they are ignorant but have not had the opportunity to get deeply involved in the political process.
Biologists and psychologists confirm what every parent already knows. Young people operate on an emotional system akin to fireworks on Independence Day. Their passions of all sorts are easily tapped and effusively expressed. The lack of experiential knowledge and volatile emotions is what we associate with immaturity.
It is the reason that we do not allow young men and women under the age of 18 to vote, to sign contracts, to join the military, to purchase alcohol, cigarettes and, yes, guns. On many issues and in various states, we do not grant the full rights of adulthood until a person is 21. Insurance companies set higher premiums for drivers under the age of 25 – the same age that must be attained for a car rental company to provide a vehicle.
By law and tradition, we do not allow our elementary, middle and high school to participate in partisan activities, whether those activities are related to our traditions of party politics or whether they are about controversial issues of political partisanship. Civic education was – with emphasis on “was” — about structure and systemic issues of governance. And where policies were discussed, they were presented as a two-sided dialogue. I made my debut in politics in my high school’s quadrennial mock presidential convention in which both sides of the political divide were represented – and even at that, it was an in-house educational event, not a public demonstration.
In more recent years, kids have been involved in public demonstrations. Not because of their contribution to the intellectual discussion, but as props. Pro-life families often bring children and infants to demonstrations as examples of life. During teacher strikes, school unions have organized young kids pleading to return to school – with the suggestion that union demands should be met. The women’s and #metoo demonstrations include young girls, suggesting their futures are endangered if certain demands are not meet.
Kids are basically props – even older kids, as in the case of the Parkland students. The mantra is that on the issue of gun control, kids are leading the way. They are the face of the issue, but they are not the leaders because they cannot be. High school students do not have the time, the organizational skills or the financial resources to lead a movement. All that is provided by adults with an agenda.
The current students’ movement for gun control is given enormous media exposure. They literally promote the events they purport to cover as news. The Parkland movement was provided with tens of millions of dollars in free publicity. Those students willing to take the hardest line against the NRA were interviewed on virtually every liberal news outlet – even to the level of special reports and focus group segments.
Students, without any personal financial resources, traveled by bus, plane and train to state capitals and to Washington, D.C. to serve as lobbyists. In a sense, they are actors on a stage that is financed, produced and directed by adults with a partisan perspective. In one of the iconic events, a young student gave a highly partisan impassioned speech – long on platitudes, but with little substance. He was an orator in the Kennedy tradition – long on high minded platitudes and an emotional, albeit imprecise, call for legislative action, but little of the detail and substance that involves complex issues. Behind him was the puppet master, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, smiling and cheering from the platform he provided.
In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo surrendered all dignity to join in a carefully organized “student protest” – chanting and shaking his fist as he looked around the young crowd for approval. In a move that borders on bizarre, the suit and tie attired governor laid on the ground in one of those oft-featured “die ins.”
None of this is to suggest that these kids are not sincere or motivated by a desire to do the right thing. And who can blame a teenager for seizing the opportunity to appear on television and to meet some of the most famous and powerful leaders in America? Apart from the seriousness of the subject matter, these field trips are fun, and getting away from school for almost any reason has a natural appeal.
I was in Washington during some of the biggest anti-war marches – hundreds of thousands of mostly young people. Yes, there were gatherings, protest signs and speeches – official and impromptu. But most of the time, it was a party atmosphere. The smell of pot smoke was more prevalent than the tear gas. Young men and women used the public fountains to splash each other – sometimes sans clothing. Many took their mantra, “make love, not war,” literally and not always in private.
While the kids are participating in what is part of the larger ongoing anti-gun movement, they are not leading or organizing it. They are temporarily fronting it for the well-established and well-financed anti-gun lobby. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, who was once President Obama’s chief-of-staff once said cynically, “never let a good crisis go to waste.” The tragedy in Parkland is an example of that philosophy. The Democrats left no time for a united nation to mourn the suffering and losses but turned the tragedy into a political subtext movement.
The left promoted those student walkouts across the nation. School administrators and teachers endorsed and supported the walk out. That placed our education system on the very slippery slope of political advocacy. If students can be encouraged to take to the streets over one issue, why not others? Already, pro-life students want a walk-out. In fairness, they should be allowed. Or can students only skip school for causes endorsed by left-wing educators? There is a real danger that we are supplanting education with propagandization – an issue already seen in our institutions of higher learning. But at least college students are in the early stages of adulthood. This one-sided politicization of the classroom is a growing threat to the concept of a free republic.
Larry Horist is a conservative activist with an extensive background in economics, public policy and politics. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman, as well as the White House. He has testified as an expert witness before legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress, and lectured at major colleges and universities. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.