We, as a society, have failed our children when they cannot safely go to school, concerts or about their daily lives. We have also failed them when we promote policies that increase their chances of growing up in unstable households and being illiterate, unpracticed in logical thinking, unnecessarily drugged, addicted to violent video games, in a culture that devalues life, and without a moral compass. Compounding our failures is not a good idea.
My heart, like yours, goes out to those children who faced gunfire in Parkland, Florida and whose lives were lost or forever changed by that event. A massacre like that, just as previous mass shootings, should call us to re-evaluate and assess our nation. However, while emotions should prod us to action, just what those actions should be must be dictated only by facts and reality. Emotions, by their very definition, are unstable and volatile. Justice and policy should not be.
I was barely an adolescent when the Twenty-sixth Amendment gave eighteen-year-olds the right to vote. The slogan I remember from that time in the thick of the Vietnam War was, “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote.” At the time, it made perfect sense to me. I am not so sure about it now.
In the real world, adults make life and death decisions that impact children all the time. And while I completely understand that young adults don’t want to be called children any more than I did at that age, society does need age limits for many activities. We set the age for obtaining a driver’s license, buying cigarettes or liquor, marrying or voting. When we sentence someone as a juvenile offender rather than as an adult or when we provide benefits to those below a certain age, we are making a decision as a society that there is a distinction between children and adults. Caring for children often means not allowing them to make their own decisions.
In the 1960s, adult educators abdicated their responsibilities and handed college campuses over to the students. Unwilling to accept the obligations of loco parentis, administrations responded to violence and destruction by handing the keys to the rioters. That weakness has now progressed to the point where students in colleges are truly treated as fragile children, incapable of being exposed to a view with which they disagree. Indoctrination has replaced imparting knowledge on too many campuses. Granted that mature thinking is absent among many who are in their twenties, thirties and beyond, but in retrospect lowering the voting age gave a right to vote while at the same time we were busy eroding the meaning of adulthood and diminishing civic obligations.
The Florida teenagers who are advocating for gun control and see the NRA as an enemy are acting in a manner consistent with their age. As adults, our role is to use the opportunity to broaden their horizons. Changing gun laws may perhaps be needed for a safer society. However, without honest analysis of many factors, there is no way to know whether or not that is true or what such changes should be. There might be other steps that can be taken that would have a greater effect at less of a cost. Emotional outbursts rarely lead to changes that do more good than harm.
Our veneration of feelings over facts is not a healthy one. As adults, we need to support young people who have been hurt. Part of that support is not feeding them myths about magic solutions, not letting them be pawns in the hands of manipulators, and helping them understand the trade-offs, potential unintended consequences and complexities of any legislation. Our society has many flaws; sacrificing one Constitutional right and scapegoating one issue can only bring more grief rather than less.
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