Wednesday, February 21, 2018

A warning to politicians: Cross these young adults from Parkland Florida at your own risk

A version was published in the Sky Hi News March 12-14, 2018

Edited March 11, 2018, again, to include updates and a condensed version of the original post.


The ability of students from Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida to stand eye to eye, toe to toe with gun rights advocates on the national stage has been jaw dropping.  How could that happen? It has happened because they had the skills provided by their school and credibility untainted by campaign donations and ideology. They were the survivors; they had been on the receiving end of an AR-15,.They channeled their grief and trauma into political action with such fervor and earnestness,  their motivation was difficult to question, as much as Russian bots and right wing conspiracists tried.

The students have held their own  on national television, appearing with professionals and adults on both sides of the  second amendment rights debate.. They have no fear in taking on the NRA and they do it with communications skills that only a fraction ,of adults with media training could muster.  They have also done so with political sophistication and a grasp of the issues. Now those students have called for a nation wide protest march in Washington on March 24. Decades of protest marches, and especially the women’s marches in the past two years , provide their template.  

How did those students  get such media savvy? Their high school’s curriculum  and extracurricular activities enabled them.. Stoneman Douglas provides an active debate program, and by a stroke of fate the November topic of debate was “gun control’. Their trained student speakers  were loaded with knowledge of the issues. In addition, this mega size suburban school has its own television station and the first student on camera was David Hogg, a debater, the television station manager, and news presenter. Let us not discount either that  this new generation of students is accustomed to speaking into cell phones , taking selfies, and texting in sound bites and they can run circles around older generations in the use of social media. Microphones and cameras do not spook them and they are armed with  the skills to communicate with the masses.

Have those students had success so far? Florida was one of the most wide open, permissive states in the union for gun rights. Local governments were even forbidden to establish their own regulations.  Before the students arrived in buses to lobby the, the state lawmakers closed their ears to what the knew would be the students’ goal, to ban assault type weapon sales. The students took to national TV and threatened to take down those legislators in the next election. While sales of assault weapons were not banned, the Florida legislature saw they needed to do something.  They passed legislation that raised the minimum age to purchase any firearm from 18 to 21, imposed a three-day waiting period on all gun purchases, banned bump stocks, and gave law enforcement greater power to commit people who they thought would be a threat,.The law also funded school police officers and mental health counselors, improved tip lines, and, in a compromise bow to the NRA, allowed  local school districts and sheriffs to have the option to arm certain school personnel. Not included, however, was closing the “lie and try” loophole that which still makes it easier for felons to buy guns. The governor, though reluctant to arm teachers or school personnel, signed the legislation Friday. The students and their parents called the legislation “a good first step”, inferring they were not done yet.

Edited to include a discussion of solutions, 2/22/18

March 7, 2018 : Florida Senate pass and goes on to House who passed the bill.

Cross these young adults at your own risk. They have the tools to lead these movements and high school seniors reaching 18 can vote in November 2018, millions of them nationwide.The rising American electorate including, those newly turning 18 , millennials and others, number eight million. . Missing has been a motivation to register and turnout to vote. These school massacres putting students' lives personally in jeopardy will provide unprecedented motivation.and presents an opportunity for this movement.

What Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Parkland have in common is that these are suburban type of schools, ,with well educated articulate parents , and demographics similar to suburbs elsewhere. Whether the trend to losses of the GOP in the suburbs will be intensified by the sympathy toward stricter gun control is not yet measured. However, it is possible. parents and grandparents in suburbs around the country can easily imagine what happened in Parkland could happen to them and their children and translate that into large election day turnout and votes for supporters of stricter gun control.. This could be an additional motivation for those suburban women who are already inspired by the women's marches, #me too, and the issues they highlighted.
I know it is hard for us older folks to believe students have the ability to articulate and lead a movement. So much so, the pro gun radical fringes have invented a conspiracy theory that some deep state and outside forces or paid crisis actors are leading them. This 3000 student school , Marjory Stoneman Douglas, is like many large suburban type schools near large metro areas. .It is the top ranked academic school in Broward, County. Schools now provide video and TV training as part of their academic courses.Marjory Stoneman Douglas even has its own TV station. Its student manager, David Hogg, was the target of a right wing conspiracy smear, claiming he was a "crisis actor".He is a bonafide student and runs the highschool's TV station. Yes, they have one...Two of my granddaughters participated in debate or journalism in their high school in Centennial, Colorado.. Debate clubs , stage performance opportunities were offered in the Parkland school.The school district places heavy emphasis on debate. Hogg was also on the debate team and the debate topic in November was gun control. The students in that high school were well prepared to be advocates. Use of video social media keeps kids from being camera and microphone shy and its forces them to speak in sound bites. . Those are communication skills this young generation has that many before them did not have a chance to develop, but they are key to providing leadership. Some of the student spokespersons/survivors interviewed on TV shortly after the Parkland massacre were JR ROTC members, also products of great leadership training. Unlike my day, the internet makes keeping up with current events so much more pertinent, in their face, and easier. to access leaving them with a level of political sophistication generations before them did not have . They are no one's fool. They also have templates to tap of successful mass rallies and marches. The women's march for the past two years provide methods and strategies Expect them to use them.

The Florida House cut the high school crusade off at the knees before they even listened to the students by refusing to bring their issues up for debate at the outset. This is a great civics lesson. The answer, my friends, is blowin' in the wind. The high school students  have  public opinion and sympathy filling their sails. 2/3 of voters favor an assault weapon ban per the most recent poll.  When a movement is stonewalled like this, change lies in voting out state and federal representatives district by district and replacing them. 

Waiting for more God in our lives or reversing our culture to old fashioned ways is not a solution to an epidemic happening now.  So what could the students  ask legislators to do?    One approach  alone is not  the answer. Each proposal I have heard has some weaknesses as well as some advantages  The answer  lies in "many of the above".from improving mental health services, tip lines, background checks, even metal detectors, more uniformed and armed guards in school. 

Above all, banning assault weapons and enhancements  to increase their deadliness within a few minutes and with minimal skill would be the single most effective policy. If the latter is done, raising ages required to buy such weapons or even expanding and improving background check data bases to include court determined  extreme risk individuals known to be violently  angry or mentally ill, and arming teachers would be less necessary to defend against young adult or teenage males bearing AR-15.

 Both the shooter in this case and the Aurora theater killer had access and sought mental health care, but  there are very strict laws to protect their rights and law enforcement failed to follow up even when they could. Even mental health professionals tell me they cannot always spot a potential mass killer and not all killers are mentally ill. Some are just consumed with anger. That illustrates the weakness and room for improvement for   relying solely  on mental health services . Tip lines certainly need to get  more serious attention. Expanding  those eligible to be included in universal round checks may help. 

 .  Putting in metal detection at entrances might work, but it could be difficult in open campuses and multi building schools such as the one in Parkland, Florida. Restricting open campuses and hardened building entrances may help.  There was active shooter training and community police officers in the Parkland school .It was not enough..Arming teachers? A teacher armed with a concealed  handgun is supposed to outgun a person armed with an AR15 without killing  innocents in the crossfire? A first responder may mistake a gun wielding teacher for the perp  and shoot him, too. This idea  is one where the cure could  be worse than the disease  and it may wither away for lack of participants. There are no teachers I know  or teacher organizations who would participate. More uniformed, trained security guards would make more sense so hang  the expense and do it..  

Banning future  sales of assault weapons  or raising the age to 21 to buy an assault weapons with  long enough cooling off periods to do a background check would make it harder  for teenagers to get weapons that can kill seventeen people in 6 minutes.  Banning bump stocks or reducing the size of clips can  also reduce the numbers killed.  With a nation awash with AR 15s, and taking them away from  current gun owners  is a non-starter. for me. However,  a voluntary buy back program might reduce some of the existing stock at risk for theft and misuse by criminals and family members.

Also see prior blogposts: Reflections on the Parkland shooting and a Facebook debate between a pro gun advocate and me.

Footenote: David Hogg was accused of being a “conspiracy actor’ in part because his post shooting interviews were well spoken, but he runs the highschool TV station and produced an  video of the event. You Tube and Trending yanked the conspiracy postings and apologized. Fact checker Snopes did a thorough investigation of the conspiracy postings and debunked them.

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