Over a month ago, there was another school shooting in Parkland, Florida at Stoneman Douglas High School. The more this happens, the more Americans get tired of it, and we should. These are terrible, and solutions need to be discussed that are careful, nuanced, and sober. Unfortunately, that is normally not what happens, as I’ve written about before after mass shootings like this. Usually, discussions turn into political mudslinging contests full of red herrings, strawmen, emotional appeals, and groundless accusations. The mainstream media tends to ramp up controversy only to rile up the right wing media to throw hay-makers back. Politicians do much of the same. Unsurprisingly, precious little gets done despite there being real research on general gun violence and mass shootings. It is not an easy problem to diagnose, so instead of thinking carefully, people jump to their preferred slogans and cry and shout. Even calling for calm is a quick way to become a target of emotional insults because somehow you are not empathetic for trying to tell people to use their reason.
After the Parkland shooting, this kind of stupidity has been ramped up to eleven because now it involves student survivors of the shooting. Many have come out as activists, the face of whom is a 17 year-old named David Hogg, and they have brazenly insulted the NRA, Donald Trump, and conservatives in general. The media and others have backed them and have tried as much as possible to give them a platform, all the while trying to ignore other students who have more moderate or conservative positions on gun control. Some far-right conspiracy theorists decided to join in on this silliness by accusing Hogg of not even being on campus during the shooting and otherwise trying to find ways to throw insults back rather than sticking with the issue.
Neither of these groups are helpful, and yes, I’m including these high school students. Do you know why? Because they’re in, well, high school and clearly have a very simplistic way of processing. I know they think they have the world figured out. I did too when I was 16-18 years old. I’m sure most adult readers would admit that as well. When I was 21, I realized how much my 18 year old self didn’t know. When I was 25, I thought the same of my 21 year old self. And so on. This is called growing up. This does not mean that wisdom always progresses linearly or that old people are always wiser (I know a host of people who would disprove both notions), but it is generally the case that age helps temper youthful presumptuousness.
Still, should they be dismissed simply because they are young? Isn’t their experience as survivors so unique that they should be given special deference on issues of gun control? The answer to both of those questions is no: They should not be hastily dismissed, but they also shouldn’t be treated as unassailable sages. It boils down to how mature they are and how well they are able to argue a case. Unfortunately, many of these outspoken survivors are showing very little maturity at all or any wisdom in their arguments.
Let’s get back to David Hogg, the unofficial face of this student movement. Here is one especially pitiful interview (that apparently The Outline thought was good):
More than coming off as a typically clueless but arrogant teenager who thinks it’s productive to cuss up a storm, he makes baseless accusations that offer no solutions. Saying that people who don’t agree with him “don’t give a f*** about these kids’ lives” is shameless smearing. I understand the kid is angry, but throwing temper tantrums in front of a camera is hardly going to help anyone. If anything, when he is backed by the left media, it leads to further division and more muddled waters. It is also somewhat entertaining that he claims that people older than him don’t know how to “use democracy” just as they do not know how to use technology… you know, those people who built those phones and laptops that he is using and who have way more experience in American politics. Evidently, he thinks you’re either 17 years old like him or an 85 year old who doesn’t know how to use email.
It doesn’t get much better for Hogg. He has continued to personally attack Marco Rubio with pretty immature insults, claiming that Rubio has put a “price tag” on kids’ lives and insisting that he and his cohorts need to be even more provocative (to the point that it even made the CNN interviewer uncomfortable because of how demonizing it was). Also, despite ample time to read or listen to corrections, he keeps trotting out the same line that the NRA just wants to sell more guns, an enormously ignorant thing to say because the NRA is not a gun store. Targeting the NRA is not terribly helpful anyway, as their power and influence is overstated (after all, tons of people own guns without bothering to be a member of the NRA). In all of his ranting, Hogg comes off as just another teenager who thinks he knows more than he does, failing to demonstrate complex thinking or nuanced arguing. The bad part is that rather than correcting him, many adults are egging him on.
But he is a survivor! He has experience, right? I remember hearing one survivor (I can’t remember if it was Hogg or someone else) who basically said that everyone should listen to them because they’re the survivors and therefore they know everything. Let me say this gently but firmly: That in and of itself doesn’t mean anything and is sometimes even counterproductive. While personal experience is often important, sometimes it can color the way someone thinks to the point that he ceases to be objective. There are some who think, for example, that having a father is either bad or not a big deal because their own father was abusive. Of course we should sympathize with their experience, but we also cannot allow them to make unjustified conclusions based on that experience. The problem with falling back on personal experience as the final arbiter is that people interpret experiences differently and have different experiences. In the healthcare debate, for example, there are quite a few people who feel they got screwed by Obamacare, but there are also many others who feel like it helped. Who’s right? In addition, going back to this gun control issue, there are other Parkland students who want to explicitly support gun rights, but they tend to be silenced or ignored. Are they not survivors too? Why shouldn’t we listen to them then?
One verse in Scripture is beloved by young folks because it seems so empowering, 1 Tim. 4:12: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young…” Yeah, tell those “old-a** parents” to buzz off like David Hogg, right? Except that’s just the first part of the verse. It goes on to read, “…but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” Paul is not telling Timothy to feel entitled to respect. He is instructing Timothy to set an example, and that is how it will come about that people do not look down on him. If David Hogg and others showed wisdom beyond their years, tried to be a uniting force, and gave sober and intelligent arguments, I would want to listen. Instead, he has showed himself as a short-sighted angry teenager who, yes, experienced something horrible, but that in itself does not make bad arguments and behavior magically good. That’s not exactly someone we want to listen to when it comes to making policy.