Less than 24 hours after a gunman walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with an AR-15, killing 17 and injuring 14 others, student survivors sprang into action. From walkouts, to sit-ins, to interviews, to a march on Washington, these teenagers — who are too young to vote — have forced this country to confront its failure to protect them. They called for universal background checks, a ban on semi-automatic weapons, and other common sense gun laws. But just as quickly, they found themselves accused of being "crisis actors" at the center of vast, far-right Parkland conspiracy theories. Prominent conservative figures, as well as cowardly Twitter trolls, attacked the teens — saying their demands were not their own, that they were not old enough to be part of this discussion, that they just did not understand how sacred the second amendment was to America — and even, to them.
"The big question is: should the media be promoting opinions by teenagers who are in an emotional state and facing extreme peer pressure in some cases?" Bill O'Reilly asked his 2.67 million Twitter followers. Dinesh D'Souza, a right-wing provocateur, mocked the survivors who wept after Florida lawmakers rejected a bill to ban assault rifles by saying "Adults 1, kids 0." This argument, that teens like Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg were too young, too ignorant, and too emotional to be part of America's discussion about gun control was met with swift backlash.
But you know what? They're right. These kids shouldn't be talking about guns.
They should be worried about the cute boy who sits in front of them in math class. They should be worried if Jennifer already has a date to the prom. They should be practicing French kisses on pillows and learning how to navigate the awkward, beautiful complexities of human relationships. But then again, 10 percent of teenagers in America say they have been victimized by a dating partner and nearly 1.5 million high school boys and girls say they have been hit, smacked, punched or otherwise physically assaulted by someone they were romantically involved with. They shouldn't be talking about this kind of abuse, but they are.
"They should be practicing French kisses on pillows and learning how to navigate the awkward, and beautiful, complexities of human relationships."
Instead of worrying about guns, these kids should be dreaming about graduation parties and post-high school life, whatever that might look like. They should be submitting college applications, picking out favorite pencils, thinking about job opportunities and, if they're able, taking some time off to travel and see the world. But then again, 44 million Americans owe more than $1.48 trillion in student loan debt. Almost a third of Americans who take out a student loan won't end up with a college diploma. Students who do manage to graduate leave school with an average debt of $29,000. In fact, in many cases, they're paying their parents' student loans. They shouldn't be talking about financial policy, but they are.
Instead of advocating for common sense gun laws, these kids should be enjoying the freedom that comes with adolescence. They should be using whatever bathroom they want, instead of navigating "bathroom bills" that keep transgender students from using restrooms safely. They should be looking forward to the future, instead of battling a suicide rate among teen girls that reached a 40-year high in 2015. They should be coming home to their parents, instead of watching ICE agents arrest their fathers in front of their school. They shouldn't be talking about transphobic legislation, devastating rates of suicide, and the rights of undocumented classmates, but they are.
"Should we condemn them to a world, an America, so riddled with injustice and violence and hate that it is unrecognizable? Of course not. But we have."
This is not lost on the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas. They don't want to be part of this conversation — they have to be. Alfonso Calderon, a 16-year-old survivor, responded to the critics who say kids don't understand guns. He told a Tallahassee crowd on Feb. 21:
Trust me. I understand. I was in a closet, locked for four hours with people who I would consider almost family, crying and weeping on me, begging for their lives. I understand what it is like to text my parents goodbye.
Should we allow our children to face horrors like this? Should we condemn them to a world, an America, so riddled with injustice and violence and hate that it is unrecognizable? Of course not. But we have.
Teens are smart — they can, and do, care about issues beyond their classrooms. But advocating for these causes should not be a matter of life or death. This generation lives in a country in which they face crushing debt, systemic sexual and domestic violence, suicide, divisive legislation, and gun violence. A world that we, the adults, have created.
Our kids should never have been abused. Our kids should never have been forced to choose between food and financial ruin. Our kids should never have been massacred, one by one, in between geometry and gym.
Our kids shouldn't be talking about guns. But they are — and it's time we listen.
This perspective is reflective of the author's opinion, and is part of a larger, feminist discourse.