Don't Listen To The Kids

America today is a country in which everything is upside down. There is an instinctive rejection of established institutions everywhere you turn, from government to media to education. Many unlikely actors have risen as avatars of this cultural shift, and nobody seems to bat an eye. This is why a gaggle of high school students have become the spokespeople for an entire movement. In a throwback to Red Dawn, the Rugrats, and Codename: Kids Next Door, the kids are now running the show.

When a deranged psychopath took it upon himself to gun down 17 of his peers at a school in Parkland, Florida, yes, those lives were lost: but so too has our nation’s sanity. In the wake of this massacre, the spotlight has been on the most stricken, for better or worse. While it’s curious that you’d want a camera shoved in your face after burying someone close to you, we’ll put that question aside. More important is the question of what unique insight these students have to offer beyond a description of exactly what happened. And though that has its use, it doesn’t extend beyond that. Hearing a gunshot doesn’t even make you an expert on that specific gun, never mind every other question about constitutional law and the statistical prevalence of gun deaths that is raised.

But for many in this debate, that’s the point. Any attempt at discussing actual, narrowly tailored solutions to this issue is meant to be taken as a diminishment of their experience, or as a full-throated war cry against young kids. The insatiable lust for the immediate gratification of doing “something”, anything at all, trumps whether or not it does what it sets out to do. Do the impossible ends justify the means of trampling on the rights of millions of law-abiding gun owners? For a large proportion of those in this debate, that question is itself tone-deaf. Who are you to talk about “rights” when kids are dying?

And atop the pedestal of this moral appeal are some of the kids themselves. Who else is better to lead this chorus than those gun control advocates are positioning themselves as the exclusive advocates for? This is a cynical and ultimately cannibalistic attempt to corner the I-Don’t-Want-Kids-To-Die market. In reality, unless you’re apart of the immeasurably smaller than 1% of the population of psychopaths who do, that’s probably not a card carrying NRA member, nor half the population for that matter.

And that’s the problem: when you have shaken children thrust into the limelight by ideological and political actors it only amps up the partisan feeding frenzy. A race to prop them up as the last line of defense and pure authority on everything guns only manages to distort and mislead, and necessarily breeds a culture of ideological resentment. In their view, if you criticize Hogg’s position, this is no different than an assault on his experience, and his right to speak.

The inherent self-contradiction in this line of reasoning becomes obvious at first glance: if he’s “only” a sympathetic victim to be taken as such, why should his arguments be listened to seriously in the first place? Why would certain mainstream media outlets take the liberty of giving him countless hours of air time to offer his policy prescriptions without challenge?

To make clear the kind of advocate the media is pushing forth, Hogg doesn’t believe there’s an institution even remotely associated with the NRA we shouldn’t boycott. Fedex? Boycott. Massive Airlines? Boycott. The entire State of Florida? Boycott. If it doesn’t believe the 2 million plus members of the NRA don’t care about dead kids, at a minimum, and want that, at worst, it has to go. Isn’t it beyond the realm of belief that a teenager who happened, unfortunately, to be involved in a mass shooting is now telling our largest institutions what to do? The end of his tantrum doesn’t end with massive boycotts. He even tells us that if nothing is changed, he won’t go to school.

Many think this is a testament to just how simple the answer is. If even a 17-year-old can see the answer, they ask, how can’t America’s politicians? For this reason, he’s seen as a model for the movement to lower the voting age. The idea that young people have some sort of unique ability to cut through the bullshit is a ridiculous one taken to its logical conclusion. Nobody would dare apply it to parenting, nor should we apply it to any large-scale national policy debate.

Beyond the question of a teenage revolt, there’s also a growing idea that your experience in a given event makes you an expert on the factors that drove that event. If a bridge collapsed, CNN wouldn’t bring in a victim to comment on what should be done to prevent bridges collapsing. Firstly, because they probably don’t know anything about bridges, and even if they did, emotions of that caliber cause one to think irrationally. Emotional turmoil does not make for level-headed coherent policy or practice. This isn’t specific to victims of a school shooting, but for anyone who’s gone through a traumatic experience. Even the basic task of driving is made far more dangerous while doing so glum — not even driving while fatigued or talking on a cell phone come close. Clearly, emotions are a primal reaction that are innately reactive. You are thrown into a state of emergency, and you marshal all the resources you can to immediate preservation — with every other consideration pushed aside. Including such nagging things as “due process” or rights and practicality. That means that whatever “solution” you could cook up is designed to give you the sensation of feeling secure, regardless of whether or not you really are. Revealingly, Hogg basically has said just that: he wants “anything” to be done. The implication in this demand is that there is something to be done that’s being willfully ignored. As though a clear solution is hanging from the ceiling and nobody will just reach out and grasp it. And yet, this feeling-driven demand is never followed up with what that something might be, or how it would have prevented this tragedy and those like it.

Just how politically partisan this kid is is highlighted when he blames Rick Scott for the incompetence of Sheriff Israel and the cowardice of the deputies beneath him. He thinks that it’s the job of the Governor to micromanage every phone call taken-or ignored-by every Sheriff’s Department in the entire state. Even while this story has been shown to be the consequence of one systemic failure after another by government, Hogg expects us to blame anyone but those immediately responsible. 43 times Israel’s department received calls about the shooter. Cruz used introduce himself as a “school shooter.” It could only have been more preventable if he walked in there with a loaded AR-15 and told them exactly when and where he’d be playing target practice with students. Then there’s his observation that if we can’t even trust the police to protect us, how can we expect teachers? It’s a shame he doesn’t then ask himself the question, if we can’t expect the police to protect us, why should they be the only ones to have guns? What is the point in being able to effectively protect yourself at all?

CNN believes it should direct the national conversation on this complex policy issue to those who are undergoing serious traumatic stress, which, if anything, is an example of journalistic malpractice. Certainly the victims deserve to give their say, but if what they say is presented as an authority on this issue, their arguments can and must be held to scrutiny. No ideas or arguments are made sacrosanct or protected because of the haver’s experience.

Even if victims have some sort of divine credibility on this and every issue, what if two victims disagree on the solution? How would we know which is superior? Whichever solution can claim the biggest army of victims’ support? Because there are plenty of victims who disagree with Hogg’s side of the debate, but are given not even a fraction of the airtime. Not only is this notion empty, it’s not even logical.

What’s happening is that the politics of emotion are being masterfully exploited by many in the media toward a desired political end. And it threatens to rupture the nation by the seams. When you have scenes like CNN’s Town Hall unfold across America’s TV screens, we begin to come to a T in the road. CNN’s Jake Tapper sat idly by while Senator Marco Rubio was told by one of our sympathetic victims that he’s basically the same guy who fired the AR-15 at his classmates. This is a gross, unacceptable thing to say, no matter how you cut it, and no matter who says it. Instead of having a conversation about guns, we’ve chosen to put half the country on the defense, and call into question the validity of our most basic rights. When you reduce your opponent to a child-murderer, there’s not much more to say. Why on earth would you not ignite a civil war at that point? For CNN to traffic in this brand of verbal bloodsports is a stain on our national fabric, and it’s hopefully one we can wipe off.

It is a time for mourning, for reflection, and regrowth. But all sense is lost when we look to misguided children for guidance on an issue for which there is no quick-fix or sweeping solution. This is for many reasons, and the gun debate is one that is clouded in partisan deceit and messy statistics. It’s a debate nested in many larger conversations about ethics, constitutional law, pragmatism, and mental health. But many seem to think those conversations can be sidestepped by raw emotion, more specifically righteous anger, alone. The immortal “facts don’t care about your feelings” may sound like a cliche, but facts are all we have. Feelings can be used to justify anything that is superficially good, regardless of its implications. These conversations can and must be had, but they must be done by those with the necessary tools of knowledge and clarity. That, simply put, neither Hogg nor his peers have demonstrated.