• Paul D. Wilke

The Greatest Generation?

Change is in the air. Over a month after the Stoneman Douglas High School massacre left 17 dead, it feels like the momentum has shifted in the gun debate. Usually, we're in full amnesia mode by now, forgetting the horrors of another mass shooting until yet another mass shooting jolts us out of our stupor, if only briefly. But this time feels different. Now a month after the tragedy in Florida, there remains enough outrage and passion to motivate a million marchers to hit the streets all over America to demand gun reform. Corporate America is increasingly shunning the gun industry. Bump stocks are getting banned. Even Florida's republican governor was able to sign a new piece of legislation tightening the state's gun laws. All of these are good signs.

And let's give credit where credit is due. This small whiff of change is happening because a few brave and outspoken high school kids have taken the lead to make sure this doesn't happen again. They are the face of a younger generation that many of us smug adults may have underestimated.

Of course, the conservative Grumposphere thinks otherwise. According to them, these are just dumb, naive, and narcissistic kids who don't know any better. My social media page has been peppered with memes variously portraying the Parkland kids as coddled, or ignorant, or ungrateful, or mere tools of monied interests. Likewise, these ungrateful little brats don't know anything about our history, the Constitution, or just how good they have it living in America. Tomi Lahren, with typical hyperbole, tweeted, "Disarming the citizenry is the first step to oppression and tyranny. Kids, I suggest you crack open the history book and learn this pattern." That whole Tweet is nothing but the usual conservative fear-mongering about gun control leading to tyranny. Of course it doesn't, as I've argued elsewhere. But never fear, conservatives can find a totalitarian slippery slope in any social issue.

Rick Santorum, never one to miss the chance to sound like an old fuddy-duddy, said that the Parkland kids had it all wrong. "How about kids instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations that when there is a violent shooter that you can actually respond to that." Think about that nonsense for a moment. In other words, instead of trying to stop future shootings before they happen by calling for common sense reforms, these kids should prepare themselves to react to the next one. (Note to Rick: CPR does not help a shooting victim.) His clueless statement was only eclipsed by the quip that these kids are just looking for someone else to solve their problems. They are in fact doing quite the opposite. Remember, adults failed miserably at every level to avert this tragedy, so it should come as no surprise that they have taken it upon themselves to hit the streets and airwaves to demand change. That's hardly the passive dependence Santorum is implying. It's civic activism. But it does fit into the 'Entitled Brat" narrative that is taking shape on the right.

And let's be honest folks, without the sustained efforts of these kids, the rest of us would be right back in the middle of another mass shooter amnesia episode. Hopes and prayers and other meaningless displays of solidarity on social media would have been weeks in the past and forgotten by now. We'd be sleepwalking to the next tragedy, just like last time, and the time before, and before that, all the way back to Columbine. This time, however, the kids aren't letting us forget. They've had enough. And good for them! They truly are the future and we've given them a helluva lot of work to do. Let's hope they do a better job than we did.