Gun control proponents are pushing to raise the age for purchasing a gun to 21 in response to the Parkland shooting. These same people want the teenagers traumatized by the shooting to set our country’s gun laws. Make up your mind, America.
Liberals have fallen in love with the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The willingness of the survivors to use the national spotlight to advocate for more gun control has transformed them from merely sympathetic victims of a tragedy to teen idols of a mainstream media eager to find a tipping point in the gun debate.
Some of the kids’ new fans are so in love with them, they’re claiming the voting age should be lowered to 16 so their wisdom on gun control doesn’t go to waste, and they can punish the state and national legislators who don’t obey their demands.
That was the conceit of a Sunday op-ed in The New York Times by Laurence Steinberg, a Temple University psychology professor. Liberal radio talker Dean Obeidallah echoed the sentiment in a gun control debate with me on Headline News. Both seem to think the kids deserve the right to decide the fate of the lawmakers who are allegedly endangering them by not voting for more gun laws.
Yet at the same time, gun control advocates are nearly unanimous in their view that the legal age for purchasing a weapon — especially rifles such as the AR-15 — should be raised from 18 to 21. The inconsistency here is staggering. Then again, are these ideas any more disconnected from reality than most of the liberal patent nostrums about guns being put forward as “common sense” proposals? Not really. More to the point, the focus on the kids tells us a lot about the way the Parkland survivors are being treated as abstract political symbols rather than flesh and blood children who deserve everyone’s sympathy and support.
The context for this question is the outsize role the Parkland students have played in the gun debate since their school was attacked. Gun control advocates and the media immediately recognized that as both survivors and attractive kids, there were no better spokespersons for their point of view than these students. They played a key role not only in a CNN town hall on the issue in which they bullied Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and seemed ready to burn NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch at the stake, but also in marches on Tallahassee where they sought to stampede the Florida state legislature into banning rifles labeled as assault weapons.
Their gun control push has earned them the praise of liberals but, of course in our culture, insults from those who disagreed. Some on the right leveled outrageous charges that they were actors or otherwise fake. Also outrageous was criticism of kids who were seen at marches or during their return to school laughing or otherwise doing things teenagers do because it supposedly gave the lie to their grief. In our bifurcated political culture, all too many of us seem incapable of disagreeing with opponents without delegitimizing or otherwise demonizing them.
That some of the Parkland kids were doing the same thing about defenders of gun rights, calling the NRA “a haven for child killers” or Nazis, is a product of their coming of age in the era of Twitter and is equally lamentable. So are their claims that any legislator who won’t do their bidding is a political prostitute in the pay of the NRA and other evil forces.
Yet while both the Parkland kids and their critics ought to behave better, the discussion about voting, as opposed to the one about raising the age for purchasing a weapon, is based on a myth about the young.
Steinberg argued in TheNYT op-ed that lowering the voting age is based on psychological arguments about the “cold cognitive” decision making abilities of teens to make rational voting choices — as opposed to the “hot cognitive” skills involved in using firearms. But that false distinction notwithstanding, it’s painfully obvious that he, Obeidallah and the others echoing their stand in the Twitterverse, are only making this case because they think the overwhelming majority of youngsters they wish to enfranchise will agree with them about guns.
This is based on wishful thinking, but is also a product of media coverage during the last three weeks in which the only youthful voices being heard are those teen survivors who have taken anti-gun stands. There was no effort from the mainstream media to find teenagers who might have different views, so perhaps its understandable that those credulous consumers of the liberal media believe such kids don’t exist.
But while the Parkland kids have seemed to speak with one voice about their revulsion for guns and a desire to restrict them, it bears pointing out that they live in a deep blue Florida district, not in a part of the country where opposing views would be as likely to be heard from teenagers as from adults.
Prior to the last lowering of the federal age for voting from 21 to 18 in 1971, liberals and Democrats thought this would be a huge advantage for them. That belief fueled some of the delusions behind George McGovern’s disastrous presidential campaign. But the youth of America didn’t rise up to defeat Nixon and, rather than being the prelude to a political Age of Aquarius, the amendment’s enactment was followed by a period during which Republicans won four of the next five presidential elections.
As anyone who follows mock election votes among students of all ages knows, school kids tend to vote as their parents do. That’s as true for the youthful liberal firebrands vowing vengeance on Republicans in the Florida legislature as it is for teenagers who probably worry as much about the state taking away their right to bear arms in areas where gun ownership is a way of life. That’s why all of the arguments about teenagers being as fit to vote for our leaders as their elders are disingenuous.
The 26th Amendment to the Constitution that gave the vote to 18-year-olds was largely rooted in a belief that Americans in that age bracket who were fighting and dying for their country in Vietnam ought to have a right to decide who would send them to war. Unlike that era, no one is currently being compelled to serve, though many below 21 are wearing their country’s uniform and are in harm’s way. Yet because of the murderously insane actions of 19-year-old Parkland shooter, much of the country is ready to deny gun rights to the same age group they enfranchised nearly a half-century ago.
Is that reasonable? An argument can be made that young people aren’t as responsible as their elders, even though many of the mass shooters have been over 21. Like virtually every other “common sense” new law proposed by opponents of gun rights, this is unlikely to prevent the next mass shooting.
But if we were to follow this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, then perhaps what we really should be doing is raising the driving age to 18 or 21, since we know that teenage drivers are far less safe than more experienced ones and are responsible every year for more deaths and injuries than all the mass shooters of the latest twenty years combined.
If we were to do so — and I speak as the father of a 16-year-old — that, rather than the debate about guns would be something that would send millions of teens to the barricades demanding political change.
The Parkland kids have a right to their say and those who abuse them should be ashamed. But those who draw conclusions from the activism of liberalism’s new teen idols about guns or voting age are equally deluded about the innate wisdom of youth and the impact they might have on future elections and the restrictions on the right to bear arms.