On February 15, the day after 17 students and faculty were murdered at a Florida high school, Twitter published a few “moments” with collected tweets about the shooting. One was captioned, “Student survivor David Hogg speaks out on gun control after Parkland shooting.”
Hogg is a 17-year-old student journalist and a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where the shooting occurred. He interviewed fellow students after the shooting, and was interviewed on CNN and MSNBC. Most of the featured tweets on the Twitter “moment” include quotes from Hogg. The final tweet, from a writer named Elisheva Avital, reads simply, “When you’re old enough, David Hogg, run for office.”
Media tends to treat survivors like Hogg as if they are policy experts, rather than ordinary people who have witnessed something most of us will never understand. Reporters often ask questions that politicize shootings and ask for a survivor’s take on legislation.
For instance, a CNN reporter asked Hogg if he had a message for Congress and the president. Hogg said action is more important than ideas. Seemingly unsatisfied with Hogg’s vague answer, the reporter pressed further. “Do you have a sense of what kind of action that would be?” she asked. Hogg replied that any action would be “a step in the right direction.” Perhaps Hogg declined to expand on his answer because he, like most high school students, did not have the knowledge required to provide specifics.
You’re an Expert on Your Feelings, Not Policy
Another highlighted tweet from Vox writer Matthew Yglesias linked to an article he wrote. The headline reads, “Watch a teenage Parkland survivor’s powerful call for legislative action.” Hogg certainly has a powerful story to share, but why is he speaking on anything other than his experience?
The article quotes Hogg saying that the Parkland shooting was the eighteenth school shooting this year. That figure has been debunked by the Washington Post and other news sources, but Vox decided to take the 17-year-old’s word for it instead of checking the facts.
While Hogg doesn’t cite his source, this number originated from an advocacy group called Everytown for Gun Safety that uses an incredibly broad definition of “school shooting.” For instance, last month, someone fired several rounds from a gun in the parking lot of a Michigan high school. This was well after classes had ended that day and no one was hurt, but Everytown listed this as one of the 18 school shootings.
Professional journalists should know better than to blindly trust this number. Hogg is a high school student who is likely to make mistakes, especially right after surviving a shooting. He should not have been treated as a credible source on this statistic.
Emotional Reactions Don’t Make Good Laws
Another highlighted tweet from ABC News included a video of students that Hogg spoke to about the shooting. One anonymous student said, “I personally have rallied for gun rights… but this experience has definitely changed my viewpoints. I was always fascinated by guns as a young girl, but this experience was so traumatizing to the point where now I can’t even fathom the idea of a gun in my house… We need more gun control in our country.”
This quote highlights a purely emotional response to gun violence. She must have known that school shootings were possible prior to February 14. The fact that it took witnessing a shooting to change her mind is proof that her reaction is based on emotion, not logic. It’s hard to blame her for thinking this way, but her sentiment should serve as a reminder that those who witness tragedies are not necessarily in a place to make rational conclusions about legislation, especially immediately after the trauma of the shooting.
It’s important to listen to survivors of tragedies and families and friends of victims. They have lived through terrible pain, and there is no better way to honor the dead than through the words of their loved ones. The media should quote survivors talking about the fear they felt and memories of their 17 murdered classmates and teachers.
Yet enduring tragedy does not make anyone a source of wisdom on legislation. Some of the survivors of the Parkland shooting reacted emotionally, as most anyone would to an unfathomable display of evil. Instead of using victims’ quotes to politicize a tragedy and sneak calls for gun control into news articles, let’s leave the policy analysis to the experts and laws to those elected to represent all Americans’ interests, and let survivors simply tell their stories.