Commendable is the only word I can think of to describe the efforts of Florida high school students after the recent mass shooting. These kids may very well change the debate about gun control. They now have experience-driven passion and many of them are on the verge of adulthood giving their collective voice a growing feeling of efficacy.
But passion does not always breed logic or accuracy or soundness of ideas. After all, these students are still children even if the ugliness of their recent trauma has aged them substantially. And, like children, they tend to see only what is right in front of them. They see troubled and traumatized teens every day all around them. Rarely, though, do they see an AR-15 rifle, let alone one being used to kill their friends. For them, the shooter is not the problem. For them, the semi-automatic rifle is what is unfamiliar. The gun is the wild card for these kids in this tragedy. Take away the gun and, in their minds anyway, the troubled kid is otherwise harmless.
Politicians also have a hard time with truth even when they know better. They often are so worried about getting kicked out of office that they lack personal incentive to speak honestly and plainly. The high school students see right through their political posturing the same way these students see right through the political posturing of the National Rifle Association (NRA). None of it creates a sound and productive debate. Nobody seems to be in a position to think clearly and explain plainly why neither of these sides is right and why politicians cannot be relied upon to lead.
The student’s goal of a completely safe school is impossible to achieve. These kids can have a safer school but never a school without its potential tragedies. If these students really want a completely safe school, logically speaking, they would have to preemptively jail every Nikolas Cruz out there looking to harm them. Quite literally, if Cruz did not exist, that AR-15 rifle would still be laying lifeless on the ground somewhere.
The student’s goal of a safe school is as unrealistic as an ideologue’s goal of a safe world. Banning certain guns or the amount of rounds used does not achieve what these students are seeking because what they seek is fantasy. Even if these students want to simply reduce the opportunity for violence, they face an incomprehensible judgment of how much of a reduction in violence is acceptable. Is banning the AR-15 enough? How about banning the allowable number of rounds to ten? But then, why not limit that number to seven or three or one? What limitations create a safe school?
That the students are wrong does not make the NRA right. We can play the same game with them. Should a citizen be able to own or possess any kind of destructive weapon? In a world in which it is illegal to point a laser pen at an airplane, what makes us think owning a shoulder-fired missile is appropriate? Gun control advocates ask the NRA a good question: Are there any limits to what destructive weapons an American citizen can own or possess? And, if there are limits, what are they and where is the point at which those limits stop? Why is it okay to own a revolver but not a rocket launcher? The Second Amendment alone does not answer these questions and the NRA is disingenuous to pretend it does.
But somebody needs to make these judgments about limitations. The students cannot do it and neither can the NRA. And, if you think politicians are going to settle this, you are out of your mind. Decisions about gun control and gun ownership must come from people not politicized by the issue. America is full of rational people and they are the ones who will be counted on to settle these contentious issues.
Gun control and gun ownership share the same purpose for most Americans: Preventing innocent people from getting hurt or killed. We should keep this debate on that common ground.