In the wake of the latest mass shooting, the kids at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland FL began a movement that’s taking the nation by storm. From Emma Gonzales’s impassioned speech, to traveling to the FL state legislature to demand gun control and student school walk-outs. There's even a plan for a march in DC.
These students-turned-activists have certainly not taken quietly to being victims of what seems to have now become the norm – the regular run-of-the-mil mass shooting at a school. Their harrowing experience and first-hand accounts have become a powerful cry for action that is striking a nerve with many people around the country – other students, parents and lawmakers. It’s also drawing criticism from some of the nation’s most influential figures.
Some say this is in bad taste. These students have, after all, been through one of the most traumatic events anyone their age can be in. They’ve had their innocence stripped away in a rude awakening most of us wouldn’t wish on anyone. Others will disagree. They argue that tragedy shouldn’t give someone a bully pulpit to take away constitutional rights.
This made me think. Is it truly in bad taste, or even immoral, to question the assertions made by victims of mass shootings, or any victim for that matter? It's something I've often wrestled with when discussing a range of topics including law, domestic and foreign policies as well as various situations involving friends and family. Is it truly acceptable then to disagree with a victim on the source of their victimization or should they get a pass? Should we all simply hear what they have to say, even if they begin to promote their ideas over ours?
Then I remembered this quote:
Let’s break it down. A quick google search finds the following definitions:
Scrutiny: critical observation or examination.
Dignity: the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect.
Now let’s apply this to counterpoints made against the students, and discuss them through this lens:
Here’s a video of Elizabeth Porter, a FL congresswoman. She passionately asserts that students can’t make judgments on what should and should be made into law. She isn’t attacking the idea that guns cause violence, the idea that students are less safe in schools because of lax gun laws, or any idea at all for that matter. She’s claiming that the students themselves can’t be taken seriously. Her contention is that they are unable to make good decisions because they don’t have enough experience. Children aren’t allowed in the state legislature for that reason. The implication is that they aren’t worthy of respect. That idea, in of itself, is reprehensible.
Ben Shapiro, on the other hand, took a slightly different approach. Here’s a video of his reaction to the movement. He attacks the ideas set forth by the students. He argues that stating “you’re either with us or against us” isn’t productive because it implies that pro-gun advocates don’t want students to be safe. He questions the concept of government being able to protect it's people better than they can protect themselves. Whether you agree with him or not, he’s scrutinizing ideas; that’s ok. It's even necessary in a free and forward-thinking society. Ben recognizes that the kids have a right to voice their opinion, which is refreshing. But the way he handles it from there is questionable.
He further argues that high school kids aren't policy experts and therefore shouldn't opine on such issues. He complains that everyone assumes they are just because they’re in front of the camera. The media takes advantage of the sadness, and everyone else assumes them to know what they're talking about, even though they don't. In doing so, he walks a fine line of manipulation and dis-empowerment. Just like Elizabeth Porter, he is asserts that they shouldn't be taken seriously because they don't know what they are talking about. This is the very definition of denying respect.
The last piece I'd like to analyze is this article. It explores what certain critics of the student movement have said. Many have chosen to focus on conspiracy theories, and questions of qualifications rather than argue the actual facts. That's nothing new to me. What caught my attention was quote from Bill O’Reilly (who I didn’t realize was still around):
To be fair, the media IS extremely left-leaning and far from unbiased. But questioning the self-determination of people isn’t the same as defending one idea or questioning another. It’s implying that the kids are somehow “too emotional” to make a decision or think for themselves. It's patronizing - a low blow.
So yes, it’s ok to question ideas put forth by anyone, anytime, anywhere. That’s what free speech is about. But when you fall into the trap of attacking the individual speaking, especially when they’re clearly a victim of a crime, you discredit your argument against the very ideas you're debating.