America’s permissive-by-global-standards gun laws and social attitudes have survived all the political outcries that followed more mass shootings than we can remember in the past many years, but the latest tragedy seems different.
The St. Valentine’s Day massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 students and faculty dead and more than a dozen others injured, was no bloodier than usual but has somehow set off a nationwide youth movement protesting for stricter gun control. Students have staged walk-out protests at high schools around the country, shown up en masse at boisterous protests at the White House and the Florida statehouse, and started the effective sorts of social media networks you’d expect of today’s young people. All the politicians have taken notice, and even President Donald Trump found himself in a “listening session” on Wednesday.
Perhaps it’s just been one mass shooting too many, but important another reason this time is different is that the students at affluent and usually placid Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are a telegenically sympathetic and uncannily eloquent bunch of teenagers.
We know this because all but one of the cable news networks have lately made reality stars out of them, which puts the more rightward media in a tough spot. There are cold and dispassionate and harshly logical reasons for America’s permissive laws and social attitudes regarding guns, but they’re hard to make in the hot media of television, as Marshall McCluhan famously described it, especially when it has such telegenically sympathetic and well-spoken stars on hand.
A few of the rightmost media have conjectured that these kids are just a bit too-uncannily well spoken for teenagers, and must have been hired from central casting by George Soros or some other left-wing conspirator, and that the kid with the former FBI father is especially suspicious given the bureau’s insidious role in the “deep state” plot against Trump. These conjectures have been passed along on social media by a couple of obscure Republican politicos and the president’s namesake son, but for the most part it’s been a futile gesture. The more respectable rightward media take care to be respectful of the terror and loss these telegenic kids have suffered, though, and even such a politically incorrect president as Trump wound up enduring their sob stories with an appropriately somber face during Wednesday’s “listening session.”
One of The Washington’s Post fancy-schmantzy high-resolution digital cameras took a picture of the talking points memo Trump was holding in his normal-sized hands, and it’s clearly discernible that fifth on the list was a needed reminder to say “I hear you.” That was about all Trump had to say to the mass-shooting survivors he’d convened, and although he’d been careful not to invite any of the kids from Douglas High, many of whom had already said they’d decline the invitation, the people Trump and the rest of the country were listening to were also remarkably sympathetic and well-spoken. Trump spoke at a relatively modest length about his campaign promise to arm all the teachers in America, admitting that most of them would probably prove quite ineffectual but holding out hope that a certain number of them would be bad-assed enough to take care of the situation, but mostly he responded to every tear-jerking story by saying “I hear you.”
There’s still a cold and dispassionate and harshly logical argument for America’s permissive laws and social attitudes regarding guns, and much of what these telegenically sympathetic and remarkably well-spoken high school students are proposing is easily refuted bunk, even if we can’t bring ourselves to blame their youthful selves for that, but Trump and his most rightward media apologists don’t seem up to making that complex case. This time around the high school kids and gun-grabbing crazies on the seem more careful to mostly propose more modest proposals about more careful background checks, fixing the bureaucratic glitches that kept federal and local enforcement from acting on numerous tips and intervening with the crazy mixed-up kid who shot up that upper-class Parkland high school, and other non-controversial solutions.
Not so long before he became a Republican candidate for the presidency Trump was yet another Democratic New Yorker who endorsed the easily refuted bunk about banning semi-automatic long guns, and although he’s since promised the gun rights absolutists that he’ll never let them down and his elephant-hunting namesake son has “tweeted” his urgings not to give an inch, we don’t expect him to start “tweeting” taunts about high school kids and holding the line. Some modest measures will likely be passed, the kids will forever remember that glorious day they walked out of algebra class, and the the political ramifications won’t be felt until all those high schools become eligible to vote.
— Bud Norman