by Guy Walker
In reaction to the recent news that Florida lawmakers voted down a bill to ban assault weapons, a photograph surfaced of the students from Parkland, Fla. who were visibly distraught. This prompted Dinesh D’Souza to tweet, “Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs.” Uhh…wut. The seething mockery of working at Hot Dog on a Stick, as you shovel masses of breaded hotdogs into the general public body while wearing the costume of a circus villain is indeed a degrading feature of adolescence. It’s the creeping realization that the days of building forts and selling lemonade merely for your own amusement are over. You now have to participate in this real-world lampoon of wearing shitty uniforms, shuffling through the ashen tedium of making some higher, remote entity its money—you walk hand-in-hand into this required indentured servitude for the rest of your life. It is indeed bad. But is it as bad as the sudden but predictable gasp of realizing your dead peers are now just collateral damage? D’Souza’s pandering disregard for the permanent trauma many of the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School now face, isn’t unusual in any respect. The same Florida lawmakers who voted not even to consider a bill banning assault rifles and high capacity magazines did vote about pornography, successfully declaring it a “public health risk.”
Perhaps it does no good in stating the obvious here, that many of these teenagers just saw their friends and classmates killed, and then conservative’s favorite convicted felon taunts them for their visible frustration at the enduring political inaction. “Adults 1, kids 0,” D’Souzsa quipped ever-so-cleverly.
Trump Jr. favorited tweets that alleged shooting survivor, David Hogg, was given talking points by his father, a former FBI agent.
Ben Shapiro, the impish chud-hero of a young reborn conservatism, repeated generally this same sentiment in the National Review, in which he asked only the truly brave questions: “Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development?” And, “What, pray tell, did these students do to earn their claim to expertise?” For starters, “pray tell” is one of those idioms so profanely archaic that it’s only used sarcastically today. It is a desperately inane use of language. Furthermore, his skepticism of the validity of victims’ opinions on the matter of gun control is symptomatic of the political nihilism currently haunting the right. What Shapiro is asking is, Do they really think they have the right to protest against assault weapons after being shot with one? It says, Fuck you! Wipe the blood off your face, and sit back down at your desk! He doesn’t offer a proposition of autonomy, when the transition into adulthood actually occurs and they are allowed to have thoughts about this sort of thing. On Twitter, he iterated simply that “experiencing horror doesn’t confer expertise.” Perhaps the surviving five-and-six-year-old victims of the Sandy Hook shooting were too young to articulately voice their thoughts on the matter; but the age requirement is irrelevant due to its self-exemplification—if you are capable of articulating thoughts on gun legislation, then you are indeed old enough.
According to Bill O’Reilly, this is not the case. The former conservative powerhouse emerged from his squalor and suppressed perversion, his private glamor as the King of Kink, to question if the media should really interview teenagers who are “in an extreme emotional state.” After normal mass shootings—the ones with adults—the usual retort is that it’s “too soon” to talk about gun legislation, that we should respect and mourn the lives of the victims first. When kids are involved, they’re too young. It’s the equivalent of arguing a rape victim is too hysterical to advocate for more efficient processing of rape kits. Besides which, Donald Trump hosted the survivors of the Parkland shooting for a listening session. He did this, we imagine, under the presumption that the students’ suggestions would be lucid and sane, not the possessed dramaturgy that O’Reilly nodded at.
What if Shapiro and O’Reilly are right though? What if they are too young, too emotional? Maybe the saints of death have a point, and the kids should go back to playing nonviolent video games and Snapchatting gifs of Michael Jackson eating popcorn. Should we be helping the youth, encouraging them to be the future leaders they will inevitably become? Or pat them on the head, and tell them to settle down? In April 2016, when O’Reilly was interviewing then-candidate Trump about how he was going to employ black youths, because, as O’Reilly put it, “many of them are ill-educated and have tattoos on their forehead,” he was making clear his position on the matter: What should we rich white men do with the poor illiterate black boy. It’s a slavemaster’s quip, a passive aggressive allusion in favor of apartheid; O’Reilly sees himself as a benevolent inquisitor, a King Solomon of reason who has dealt equality to the masses through his own shrewd totality.
We already knew Trump’s answer. The private prison industry donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaign and then inauguration. A leaked memo from the Bureau of Prisons indicates Trump has already approved the transfer of inmates from federally-run facilities to private contract facilities. Lock ‘em up.
The real problem for the many conservatives who are scoffing with dread at the sight of teenagers demanding change is these kids are white. They never gave Black Lives Matter the attention they deserved because they knew they’d never win over the black vote anyways. These uppity Parkland kids on the other hand will very soon be voting, and much of the conservative establishment is up in arms over because they don’t want to scare them off for good. After all, it’s a new generational crop to fight our wars.
To Shapiro’s point about them being lumps of mental clay, it’s just this—many, if not most of them, are nearing that ripe mirthful age for war. Many high schools host recruitment tents at lunch hour, where some member of some branch of the military solicits them to mime some deadly spasm under the guise of honor, duty, bravery, patriotism. So guns is very much relevant to their conversation. One of the NRA’s most clamorous plague-spluttering advocates, Ted Nugent, dodged the Vietnam draft when he was 18 years old by shitting in his pants for a week—this is true, look it up—and vomiting all over himself. At the thought of war, he literally shat himself; and yet, these Parkland kids are surely too emotional.
There’s no point in predicting anything. If the school walkouts, the protests, the marches, and the entailing media coverage around these actions do in fact strike a nerve with lawmakers, and succeed in passing even the feeblest beginnings of real gun legislation—or in the very least galvanize a democratic effort—it will humanize politics at least for the moment. This seems unlikely. What seems more likely is that the ruckus will peter out, Trump will go back to golfing and tweeting, Democrats will hope Mueller tears everything down, and more kids will get killed. Wash, rinse, repeat.
There’s no telling what will happen; but there are still things you can say with certainty. Silencing the children most affected by gun violence in schools is not going to foster a golden age of reasoning. If other measures are taken instead, such as ratcheting up security measure on school campuses, teenagers won’t come bouncing home from school, telling their parents resplendent tales of how the TSA-like security operations nurtured an affectionate learning environment. The ever-expanding prison conditions of our academic institutions won’t grant the international appeal they once had. The $30 million that the NRA poured into electing Donald Trump doesn’t soothe concerns that he won’t do shit. In the meantime, the teenagers are the only ones making sense.