How to say this delicately, without coming off as a callous old fogey? Those stunningly eloquent and impassioned Parkland, Florida students who survived Valentine’s Day’s appalling massacre, and Americans of all ages flocking to the anti-gun violence movement they’re creating, are unintentionally giving their compatriots a reminder of why we don’t let high school-ers run the country.
Although my life has never been in danger from any source, and I have never had to attend burials of dozens of my peers within days, I have no difficulty understanding why anyone with these experiences, and especially impressionable young people (yes, a cliché, but no less true for it), would want to do everything possible to make sure that they and no one like them suffers this ordeal again. Further, who can blame them for trying to shame politicians and others into supporting their various favored policy responses (which appear to focus on tighter gun restrictions and to a lesser extent on improving mental health care), and threaten those office-holders who they believe oppose their desired gun curbs in order to keep their National Rifle Association (NRA) campaign contributions flowing?
Improvements on all fronts, including gun accessibility, obviously can and should be made. For example, I’m impressed with proposals to set 21 as the minimum age for any gun ownership. And closing the “Charleston loophole” in the national background check system? Absolutely. And these on top of the other measures I blogged about last Wednesday – including tighter school security along with longer-term measures to provide better and more comprehensive mental health care and, maybe most important of all, whatever changes are needed to transform a culture that has so slighted family and community, and has so glorified so many forms of instant gratification – including violence.
But the Parkland students whose tough demands and often strident statements have attracted the most attention are going to run into a big obstacle as they seek political and policy change – which of course they have every right to do. They’re going to find out that, as important as preventing or reducing the number of school and other mass shootings undeniably is, it’s not the only problem facing the nation. Arguably it’s not the gravest problem facing the nation. More important, that’s what the vast majority of Americans to date believe.
The proof, in this case, is in the polling. We’ve had a few surveys that gauged public opinion in the immediate aftermath of Parkland, and they do contain good news for the students and others pushing for more effective gun control. For example, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found 50 percent-46 percent support for a national assault weapons ban, and agreement by a 58 percent to 37 percent margin that the Florida high school shooting could “have been prevented by stricter gun laws.”
But the far more important results – and the ones that politicians will be zeroing in on – make clear that, even when memories of Parkland couldn’t have been fresher, Americans have recognized the importance of other priorities, too. Specifically, a CBS News sounding asked respondents the following question:
“In this year’s Congressional elections, how important will the issue of gun laws be to your vote – will it be the single most important issue, will be important but so will other issues, or will it not be important to you?”
The results? Only 18 percent described gun issues as their most important. Seventy percent said it was one of numerous priorities. Even 72 percent of Democrats, who most strongly favor tougher gun laws, agreed with this proposition.
A Quinnipiac University survey reported much the same. It asked respondent, “If you agreed with a political candidate on other issues, but not on the issue of gun laws, could you still vote for that candidate, or not?”
By a 54 percent to 34 percent, respondents said that they could support a candidate regardless of their gun laws stance. Forty-two percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independents agreed.
And before you start throwing a fit, if you think about it, this perspective is entirely justified. Consider the following: According to an organization that runs a “Mass Shooting Tracker,” 590 Americans last year died in such incidents. And this database defines mass shootings relatively broadly – as incidents in which at least four people are shot (as opposed to at least four killed). Everyone of good faith should agree that that’s 590 too many.
But here’s the human toll of another national problem: opioid addiction. According to the federal Center for Disease Control, in 2016 (the latest figures available), 63,600 Americans died of overdoses from such drugs. Fatalities are growing fastest, moreover, among Americans in the 15-24 years age group.
To be completely and emphatically clear, I am not depicting any of these other national challenges as excuses for business-as-usual about school and other mass shootings. We rightly expect our elected leaders to walk and chew gum at the same time. Instead, I’m observing that, as the Parkland students seeking to concentrate Americans’ attention tightly on these issues wade into national politics, they’ll (continue to) discover not only that there are reasonable arguments on the other side that so far have convinced people who are not moral monsters and who do not have “blood on their hands,” but that there are plenty of other fish in that sea. And many are not only just as big. They’re just as virtuous.
P.S. – recognizing this perspective goes double for most of the Establishment Media members who have covered this story. For unlike the Parkland students, they don’t deserve any slack. Because they’re supposed to be adults.