September 19, 2020

Some people have a problem with Parkland students using their survival as a platform for change

A Florida lawmaker’s aide was fired this week after telling a reporter that paid actors were posing as Parkland students on CNN to speak out about gun reform—an utterly ridiculous conspiracy theory that always seems to make the rounds after mass shootings, though usually not in the form of a government aide speaking to a reporter on the record.

It’s baffling to live in a country where some find it easier to believe actors are paid to go on cable news networks and pose as children who just watched their friends being murdered, because that’s somehow more plausible than the idea that children are actually sick of watching their friends being murdered.

Survivors of last week’s horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida, are organizing in the name of meaningful gun reform that could help stop the prevalence of school shootings in our country, a response that has captivated a nation used to shootings being significant only until the next one happens. Many are applauding the courage of these high school students, including celebrities who’ve pledged money and time to their cause.

Others have criticized the students for having the audacity to believe they’re qualified to speak on the complexities of gun control or paint their protest as a carefully constructed publicity stunt intended to brainwash Americans into believing the crazy notion that parents shouldn’t have to live in fear of their children being killed at school by someone who shouldn’t have been allowed to own a pocket knife, much less an assault rifle.

It’s hard to keep up with which Americans should be allowed to speak freely about issues that directly affect them and other Americans. Football players are considered heroic when they score more points than the team you hate and traitorous when exercising their right to kneel during the national anthem. Basketball players who’ve given millions of dollars to children and communities in need are told to “shut up and dribble” whenever they dare to share a political opinion despite the fact they are also hardworking taxpayers who absolutely have the right to speak as Americans, no matter how much you disagree with it.

We know the First Amendment doesn’t offer protection from the criticism or consequences that come with freedom of expression. People are fired every day for making statements considered damaging to their employers, and often for good reason. It does, however, protect Americans from being punished by the government for their views, which is why it is precious and something not to be taken for granted.

I somehow missed the portion of the First Amendment that grants Americans freedom of speech, assembly and religion—provided they aren’t children or professional athletes or successful actors or representative of any societal group that involuntarily loses its voice according to what others are comfortable with.

The idea that specific groups in our society should keep their mouths shut for any reason other than to entertain is repulsive. Even more disgusting is the idea that high school students who managed to dodge the stream of bullets that slaughtered their classmates shouldn’t be entitled to the same freedoms granted by the First Amendment.

These students know their voices are louder right now than they’ve ever been and are using them as a vehicle for change. They could choose to ignore it like we’ve managed to ignore every other school shooting, to go home and soak in meaningless thoughts and prayers until it’s safe to step outside again.

Instead, they’ve chosen to speak. Whether we agree with them is not the issue.

It is whether we are willing to listen.