On March 24, student activists will gather in Washington, DC and other cities across the country as part of March for Our Lives, organized in response to the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with the mission to “end the epidemic of mass shootings.” Their enthusiasm is admirable. But their trivial knowledge of firearms and the Second Amendment is not. Before they try to change every Americans’ constitutional rights forever, perhaps these eager young men and women might want to learn something from their elders on these matters.
I represent an older generation of Americans who grew up in a time when many people still lived on farms. Unlike this generation, which seems determined to denigrate the roles of men and fathers, many of us had dads who taught their sons and daughters the proper use of shotguns and rifles, and how to shoot. Even my suburban high school in New York had a gun range and a junior Rod & Gun club. We were all expected to learn how to shoot a firearm. After the Second World War and Korea and amidst the threat of Soviet totalitarianism, we were taught to defend our families, ourselves, and our country. Liberty, self-armament, patriotism, and citizenship were inextricably bound.
The right to keep and bear arms has become even more crucial to those of us heading into our sunset years. The elderly are especially vulnerable to violent crime and, as a result, the number of senior citizens carrying firearms is on the rise. Nearly 23,000 people over 65 took basic firearm training courses from NRA-certified instructors in 2015, four times the number five years earlier. Since 2010, seniors’ demand for firearms training climbed 400 percent.
These are realities of life that the vast majority of the young people clamoring for gun control do not appear to grasp.
In fact, given their many media appearances, it’s clear that student activists are largely unfamiliar with the mechanics of firearms. Most believe the “AR” in “AR-15” stands for “assault rifle.” (It actually stands for ArmaLite, the manufacturer who designed the gun in 1956.) Moreover, few know the simple difference between a round and a clip. These aren’t trivial matters. They have already vastly impacted public policy.
American ‘Gun Culture’ Is In One Sense A Total Myth
Millennials also ought to grapple with the fact that American “gun culture” — in the sense that everyone is walking around with a firearm or has one at home — is a myth. Just about 3 percent of the population owns half of the civilian guns in this country. That’s the lowest rate of gun ownership since the late 1970s. Indeed, three decades ago, half of all American households had a gun, while just around one-third did in 2010. Yet gun violence has become more and more of a problem, despite fewer and fewer people possessing firearms.
Even more worrying, student activists don’t get the moral dimension of the Second Amendment, a failure of education that will likely devastate our democracy.
The right to keep and bear arms is about self-defense, of course. But it’s more than that, which should be obvious, because the overwhelming majority of guns in this country will never — thank goodness — be used in act of self-defense. It’s about responsibility, and lack of ownership (not only of firearms, but of anything) breeds irresponsibility. And it’s young Americans who especially would benefit from getting to know a right that’s primarily about obligation, obligation to oneself as well as to one’s neighbors.
As Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) demonstrated in his bestselling and aptly-titled 2017 book, “The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis,” our country’s coming-of-age rituals (graduating from school, leaving home, starting a family, buying a home, etc.), are now being delayed or omitted entirely. In that vein a new report from the National Institute on Retirement Security shows that 66 percent of millennials have nothing saved for retirement. And according to testimony by General Robert B. Neller, the 37th Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, less than 30 percent of young men and women are qualified to join the military.
These recent revelations are indicative of a broader and extremely alarming trend. And yet those born between the early 1980s and the mid 1990s constantly complain that they’re unfairly accused of being selfish and short-sighted.
Alas, millennials pass off personal responsibility to government and demand a greater amount of care through social welfare. And they still can’t figure out why older Americans can’t take them seriously as fully-formed adults. It’s not entirely their fault though. With the pervasive influence of progressivism, they are indoctrinated in school to believe there’s very little, if anything, to be learned from the past. Each generation is wiser than the previous one. So history is merely a saga of bigotry, racism, hatred, misogyny, and xenophobia. That by extension means that those who lived before us are not be trusted, as they are products of an enlightened era.
Indeed, to previous generations, “respect your elders” meant appreciating that those who have been on this planet longer than you have probably know things that you don’t. To millennials, however, the saying seems to mean little more than “be nice” to your parents and, especially, your grandparents, as in don’t scream at them when they ask you for the fifteenth time how to send a text message. If millennials were willing to accept that they could learn something from their grandparents, they would learn a lot about firearms, about which they claim to care passionately.
At least in the short term, there’s little chance we’ll be able to convince millennials of the virtues of the Second Amendment. Their generation floats. It has few roots. Its members are more likely to rent property, to regularly switch jobs, and to move from city to city. A greater appreciation of our nation’s history and founding principles will require a significant cultural shift. But there’s still reason to try to move the needle, for it’s our duty as citizens.
So I applaud the student activists for getting off the couch, putting down their iPhones, and getting involved in the public square. But if saving lives as well as our democracy is genuinely their aim, their time would be better spent more effectively reading a civics textbook or sitting down with their grandparents for an afternoon.