So I was at the March for Our Lives in DC two weeks ago, joining in with WES, who I somehow managed to find in the crowd.
Check out my sign!
Yup. I figured everyone else would have the basic gun control angle well covered, so I went the voting age route, if with a well-deserved jab at the NRA to play to the audience.
And if this whole thing isn’t a major reason for lowering the voting age, I don’t know what is. But more on that in a moment.
The speakers were mostly Parkland students, as well as survivors and friends and family of victims from that and other shootings, all demanding an end to gun violence, all urging our leaders to take action. All calling for sensible gun control.
Not that that’s a simple solution. Gun control has its own complexities and can very easily be racist, ableist, and numerous other inequalities (which, not being Kathleen, I’m not going to sit here and spend ten paragraphs naming!). Certainly not even those at the march would be in agreement as to what that would look like, as some just want guns to be more difficult to get, requiring background checks and perhaps licensing, while others straight up want the Second Amendment repealed.
But all that aside, gun control as a response to school shootings would be significant in a way I hadn’t really even realized before. Until one of the speakers straight up said they do not want zero tolerance policies.
That’s right. Zero tolerance policies and other academic security theater, making the schools become somehow even more like prisons, are often the go-to response from policymakers when these atrocities happen. We’re seeing calls for harsher school environments. The idea being that if students are super restricted they won’t shoot or be shot.
In other words, instead of going with gun control, which would directly affect and restrict adults and acknowledge that adults must accept responsibility and make sacrifices, whatever they may specifically be, they go for zero tolerance policies and tougher schools, all of which pin all the restriction and blame on the young students they’re supposedly protecting.
They also say that #WalkUpNotOut bullshit, telling students not to walk out and demand change but to just “walk up” to some lonely classmate and befriend him so that he doesn’t flip out and shoot everyone. Which, while certainly befriending people is good, is just more of adults shirking responsibility and blaming the problem on young people and bullying, with a side of “therefore, sit down and shut up because it makes me uncomfortable when you challenge authority or think critically except where doing so is convenient for me”.
To these adults, it’s all a young people problem, young people need to be made to behave and kept on a short leash, and if adults are responsible for anything it’s that they’re not being tough enough with those horrible young people.
And, of course, gun control would affect voters. The students being heavily restricted and nonetheless still shot at aren’t old enough to vote.
That’s also why I’m so dismayed at the push to raise the firearm purchase age to 21. As I said before, it doesn’t actually accomplish anything or force our society to tackle the hard questions around guns. It just, like with the zero tolerance policies, pins the blame on young people and calls that a victory. They rightly see zero tolerance as the pathetic cop out that it is, yet somehow raising the purchase age is any better? Vast majority of these mass shooters were well over 21, and the deaths of their victims weren’t any less tragic and horrifying. Nikolas Cruz is only 19, sure, but I doubt an age restriction would have stopped him here, or that in two years he’d be over whatever made him do this and that he’d be all sunshine and roses. Not that I think he should have been able to get an AR-15 however he did, but that should be a question of the general population’s ability to get one rather than picking on and thus blaming young people.
After all, blaming young people is just going to make this worse. Not only are policymakers choosing to place restrictions that apply only to young people and not anyone or very many old enough to vote while ignoring gun control policies which would apply outside of schools and affect adult voters and actually be effective (or at least much moreso than zero tolerance policies and increased age restrictions), but in showing little willingness to consider more effective options, they’re making clear that, despite the thoughts and prayers, they don’t really care that much that these kids are dying. After all, they are teenagers, a group thoroughly villified at all corners of society. Teenagers are nothing but trouble, something their voters must put up with. The voting parents are devastated, absolutely, and that’s where there’s some lip service to these voters having lost cherished property but not much more. Even after Sandy Hook and the victims being much younger, nothing was done. Kids might make adults as a whole feel sentimental, but it doesn’t mean they value their lives enough to make widespread societal change for them. Except where they can make themselves look like they care to score points with other adults.
Hence my sign.
The march included frequent reminders to vote in November, against those who just do and say whatever the NRA tells them. Those who would rather make schools more restrictive and punitive than even think that an adult might not need to be able to get a semiautomatic weapon that easily. Because, as the march concluded, we must remember the children at the ballot box.
And I was standing there with gritted teeth, thinking “there’s an obvious change to call for here… politically active teens needing to beg adult voters to vote a certain way… we’re just a few miles from three towns that did it… come on…”
Because, seriously, would this be an issue if these teens could vote? I mean, yeah, probably, but all this highlights what a gross injustice it is that they can’t. They want safer schools and for these mass shootings to stop, but because they don’t have the franchise, elected officials aren’t under all that much obligation to listen or care except where those of voting age show solidarity. Because the group that is endangered in these shootings, the students, isn’t considered a group worth having a voice except by way of parents and teachers, which is of course not good enough. Lower the voting age to 16, and make the high school students a voting bloc who can tip the election results one way or another, and suddenly the candidates can’t afford not to listen to their demands or at least stop scapegoating them.
This isn’t just wishful thinking on my part. Lowering the voting age has very much been part of the conversation here, with a slew of articles and whatnot coming out around this issue here and here and here and here and here and here and here. The Parkland students’ activism, while not about this specifically, absolutely demands it. Without the youth vote, adults can much more easily simply choose not to listen.
Without the youth vote, adults can much more easily not care when young people die.