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In February 2018, just a couple of weeks after the Parkland, FL school shooting, I wrote, “Our number one asset to fight this growing trend of violence in schools is our own kids.” Since that time, many kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and all around the nation have stepped up and started taking action. They have become polarizing role models for a nation finding itself constantly and corrosively divided.

First, let me say I don’t believe the gun control measures being suggested will have a real effect on school violence. I feel it is a distraction from our real issues causing the violence. I also don’t feel mass shootings should be the focus of our attention. Suicide is more prevalent and stems from the same core problem. That isn’t to say I don’t support some regulation. I am not a hardcore Constitutionalist. I believe in expanded background checks (including Parameds to look for certain prescription drugs or mental health diagnoses). I believe in mandatory waiting periods. I don’t like open-carry in most environments. At the same time, I believe guns serve as a wonderful force equalizer and are a key component of any self-defense strategy. At the core of all our debate is a simple and universal need to feel safe, and I believe that is what’s driving these kids to take action, and I support that action, even though I disagree with their platform.

Today we have a group of angry and frightened kids who have become the faces of a universal need. Sadly, they are being manipulated by one side and demonized by the other. They are getting funding, access, and guidance from the anti-gun lobby. They are also receiving valuable air time in the national press. Without all of this, their cause would go unheralded, so I don’t blame them for seizing the opportunity. Unfortunately all those resources and attention are only being given to one side of the debate and it is creating resentment, added fear, and escalating attacks from the other side. Worse yet, much of it is going against the character of the kids, which is flat out wrong.

I want to ask those who would attack them:

Aren’t these the types of kids we want to be raising?

 

While I disagree with the platform they have been given, I admire their enthusiasm and willingness to be actively involved.

 

Rather than attacking them, shouldn’t we be recruiting them? Empowering them and others like them with more facts, real data, and substantive debate?

Celebrating the fact that the next generation is taking responsibility into their own hands?

 

Isn’t this the opposite of entitlement and opposite of the traits for which the millennial generation is so often criticized? Isn’t it counter-productive to personally attack them with fake memes and name-calling rather than validating their concerns, finding common ground, and educating them to make good decisions?

 

In our society today, we see a lot of bad and manipulative journalism. I was writing about it  in 2013, and it has only gotten worse since then. President Trump has attacked it as “fake news,” and whether you like him or not, he isn’t wrong. Fake news abounds on both sides of the aisle. The kids speaking out about mass shootings are not the engine creating fake news, they are the victims and pawns of it. Those who would oppose them by creating their own disparaging fake news are only adding to the sad state of affairs, and both sides seem to be ok with using children as their pawns.

We have a frightened, angry, youthful, vigorous group of individuals who actually believe they can make a lasting change in their world, and we are choosing to attack their ideas rather than working for common ground and common sense solutions. We, as usual, are focusing on our differences rather than our common goals.

If I could speak directly to this group of youth, I would say:

I support you. I disagree with much of the information you’ve been given, and I’m afraid your focus has been taken away from a true concern of safer schools and railroaded into the political hot button of gun control. I have kids entering Middle School next year, and I want them safe. I hope they see you as champions for a cause, and I hope they emulate your actions and learn from your mistakes. I apologize for the fact that your lives will be forever changed not only by the shooting, but also by the media circus and hateful world in which you now find yourselves immersed.

 

I ask you to take an honest look at the environment that causes your age group to commit suicide at a rate that makes it your second leading cause of death. I ask you to ponder why that rate is 3x higher for certain social groups such as LGBTQ. I ask you, as survivors of such a tragic event and environment, what could have been done to fix the environment a year ago? Two years ago? Ten years ago?

 

What can be done to reach individuals within your peer group who are most likely to become depressed, suicidal, or homicidal and prevent a tragedy? Is it more extra-curricular activities in school such as music, art, PE, and trade school? Is it an earlier detection of their mental state? Is it more inclusion in social groups? Is it more metal detectors? More security? More parental involvement? Less video games and violent movies? A different type of education structure? Or, is it really the access to one particular brand of rifle and how many bullets the others can hold?

 

Where can our society and our lawmakers take meaningful action that might prevent the next suicide or homicide or domestic abuse in your age group?

 

If your school was given significant extra funding, where would you most like to have seen it spent a year ago? Metal detectors? Enforcement personnel? More teachers? More mental health counselors? More band equipment? More coding classes? What about today?

 

If you could go back one year or two years and change just one thing, what would it be? Would you pass a law so nobody could purchase an assault rifle? Would that have prevented this event? Would you pass a law that required him (and every other student) to have bi-monthly meetings with a qualified counselor? Would you find out more about him and create a class that might have served his natural abilities better? Would you ask for more police presence in the school?

 

If you could go back a few years, would you treat him or any of your other struggling classmates differently?

 

Many of you will be voting soon, and many of you will now be thrust into politics and journalism as a career. You will be shaping the future for students like you. When you are silently pondering things, what do you honestly most wish to see changed? Less guns in the community? Less hate? Less bullying? More police?

 

What does an ideal community and public school look like? It is now up to you to create that ideal situation and no matter what you feel is the best solution half the population who will aggressively oppose you. How will you win their support? What are the things we can all agree upon?

 

My opinions are only my own. If this group of students can honestly reflect and decide that mass shootings are their biggest fear, and that banning the Armalite rifle is the single most important thing to prevent mass shootings, then I support them! I am ashamed of those who are mocking and abusing them. To be fair, there are opposing view points who are being largely ignored by the media and abused by their foes for speaking their own minds. This is also shameful. What we need is open and honest discourse without the fear of name-calling, Photoshop memes, threats, and manipulation. The environment where adults are belittling high school kids for speaking their minds and making posters of them as Hitler is the same environment creating school shooters and youth suicides in the first place. There is no longer a moral high ground, it has eroded away. Sadly, we needed to have the correct debate back when I first wrote of this in 2012.