Media-Savvy Parkland Students Hijack Gun-Control Debate

Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., still reeling from last week’s shooting that took the lives of 17 people, have channeled their grief into political action.

Some students and Parkland community members have used social media — particularly Twitter — as an outlet to amplify their voices, calling for politicians to make meaningful changes in U.S. gun-control laws.

One student responded to President Donald Trump directly, criticizing a tweet in which he blamed the FBI for paying too much attention to his ongoing Russian collusion investigation and not enough to signs of potential danger from the Parkland shooter.

These young activists are not just hiding behind their keyboards. Some have not been shy about holding press conferences and giving interviews to mainstream media outlets, again calling for lawmakers to to enact gun-control policy.

15-year-old Douglas freshman Christine Yared wrote a New York Times op-ed about living through the shooting, memorializing her friends and echoing her classmates’ messages.

“We need to vote for those who are for stricter laws and kick out those who won’t take action,” she wrote. “We need to expose the truth about gun violence and the corruption around guns. Please.”

Parkland students are also organizing the upcoming March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., which was first announced on the Sunday show circuit.

“On March 24, the kids and families of March For Our Lives will take to the streets of Washington D.C. to demand that their lives and safety become a priority and that we end gun violence and mass shootings in our schools today,” reads the mission statement on the event’s website.

On Wednesday night, many Parkland students grilled Florida politicians — especially conservative Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — on what they plan to do about guns and school safety going forward during a live CNN Town Hall.

Mainstream media outlets have caught on to the students’ newfound power in the gun-control debate. As the Baltimore Sun’s Dave Zurawik put it: “[Parkland students] are also showing the kind of moral leadership on gun control and school safety that could shame Congress and the administration for offering only platitudes and little or no action.”

Think-pieces about the shooting have gone from parsing politicians’ reactions and the shooter’s history to discussing what factors led to the Parkland students’ reacting to their tragedy in such a decisive, adult manner.

Washington Post analyst Philip Bump noted that these children grew up in a world where school shootings were more frequent than in past generations, thus increasing their frustration with politicians and their inability to prevent these tragedies from occurring.

“For them, for a generation that grew up preparing for mass shootings the way those who are older grew up with fire drills, this shooting is part of an endemic problem that’s been with them their whole lives,” Bump wrote.

The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer made a similar case for the conditions that fostered so much animosity toward political figures in Generation Z.

“Those students understand that they live in a country that they have very little power to change — a country where, several times a year, a school for children becomes a charnel house,” he wrote. “So when that hideous transformation struck their school, they already knew what they wanted to do.”

That idea is rooted in the notion that a deeply embedded cynicism has taken ahold of these students. The New Yorker’s Emily Witt pushed back against that concept, making the argument that this youth mobilization has been mostly sparked by faith that real change is achievable.

“The first step of the Never Again movement was believing in an idea that the rest of America had grown too cynical to imagine: that Marjory Stoneman Douglas High really could be the last school shooting in America,” she wrote.

In a separate New Yorker article, Witt also brought up the fact that the Parkland shooting affected a relatively affluent community, thus increasing the likelihood politicians will pay attention to their needs and desires.

There was inevitably going to be some pushback to these students leading the anti-gun charge from the other side of the gun-control debate. Most of that vitriol has come from online trolls, including some suggesting that the students are paid actors and not grief-stricken teenagers.

Some conservative pundits, like Tomi Lahren, have criticized the politicization of Parkland by the Left. Rush Limbaugh, a conservative radio host, condemned the March for Our Lives as “an event that advances a political agenda for the American Left and the Democrat Party.”

The irony on display there is that these students do not appear to be advancing a party-based agenda as much as advocating for all politicians to quit bickering long enough to thoughtfully engage each other on an issue integral to their and their peers’ collective safety.

As New York Magazine writer Benjamin Hart put it, the survivors of this horrific shooting are using their voices to make a clear, concise point about what they no longer deem to be acceptable going forward.

“The Stoneman Douglas students vow that theirs will be the last school shooting in America,” he wrote. “They’re probably wrong. But by controlling the narrative around their own tragedy and using it to rally others to their cause, they’ve shown the country that despair and paralysis are no longer an appropriate response to our gun violence crisis.”

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