David Hogg began his speech at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C., on Saturday by accusing Marco Rubio, Florida’s Republican senator, of exchanging students’ lives for donations from the National Rifle Association. Dividing the $3 million or so that Rubio has received from the NRA over the years by the number of primary and secondary students in Florida, Hogg figured that the senator had charged $1.05 for each of the 14 teenagers killed in the February 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where Hogg is a senior.
Hogg and the other young activists who attended demonstrations across the country on Saturday to demand legislation aimed at preventing school shootings may have energized the debate about gun control, but they certainly have not elevated it. Taking their cues from the grownups they say have failed them, Hogg and his compatriots assume their opponents are motivated by greed, cowardice, and crass political considerations—anything but honest disagreement.
“School safety is not a political issue,” the March for Our Lives website insists. “There cannot be two sides to doing everything in our power to ensure the lives and futures of children who are at risk of dying when they should be learning, playing, and growing.”
There cannot be two sides. That sort of logic practically demands contempt for anyone who does not share your policy preferences, as illustrated by Hogg’s comments about legislators who do not vote the way he thinks they should.
“They’re pathetic fuckers that want to keep killing our children,” Hogg said in an interview with The Outline. “They could have blood from children spattered all over their faces, and they wouldn’t take action, because they all still see those dollar signs.”
Hogg is only 17, but comments from older, supposedly wiser advocates of gun control reflect a similar attitude. “If you’re a political leader doing nothing about this slaughter,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted after the Parkland attack, “you’re an accomplice.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who is five times as old as David Hogg, shares his assumptions about people who disagree with her, although she expresses them in more temperate terms. “The students protesting inaction on gun safety,” she tweeted on March 14, “have the courage to stand up to the NRA and lawmakers would do well to follow their example.”
If fear of the NRA is the only conceivable reason why people would fail to support the legislation favored by Hogg, Murphy, and Feinstein, there is no point in debating whether, say, an “assault weapon” ban, a limit on the capacity of magazines, or background checks for every gun transfer can reasonably be expected to have a meaningful impact on the frequency or lethality of mass shootings. The only sensible course is to shame or scare people into doing what everyone knows is the right thing—whatever that happens to be at any given moment.
“Our lives are more important than your guns,” said a sign held by a teenager at the D.C. rally. Similar slogans, presumably written by adults, could be seen on signs held by preschoolers. The implicit message—that Americans must surrender their firearms and their Second Amendment rights in the name of protecting children—was not exactly designed to provoke a fruitful dialogue. But that approach makes sense if you think all the relevant issues have already been settled.
Lara Vance, a middle-aged Kentucky woman who was interviewed at the D.C. rally, said she was “rather shocked that this is even an issue.” After all, “This is something that can be solved. It doesn’t take a lot of thought. We know what the problems are, and we need Congress to get their act together and get this problem solved.”
I disagree with pretty much every part of that, but I have no doubt that Vance sincerely believes it. I wish she would extend me the same courtesy.
University of Maryland Prof. Dana Fisher adds:
In the days before and after more than two million Americans participated in the March for Our Lives, the gun-violence conversation has focused on the Marjory Stoneman Douglas survivors and their “student movement.”
The school shooting in Parkland, Fla., and the passion of the teenage survivors have become a catalyst for the current movement. With the help of some well-resourced benefactors, including Oprah Winfrey and George Clooney, the survivors organized an extraordinary rally in D.C. and sister marches around the country in a mere six weeks.
However, the young faces of the advocates have created an assumption that “youth” and “students” are the core of the movement. My research tells a different story about who participated in the March for Our Lives — and it is more complicated and less well-packaged for prime time.
As part of my research on the American Resistance, I have been working with a research team to survey protesters at all the large-scale protest events in Washington since President Trump’s inauguration. By snaking through the crowd and sampling every fifth person at designated increments within the staging area, we are able to gather a field approximation of a random sample. So far, the data set includes surveys collected from 1,745 protest participants.
During the March for Our Lives, my team sampled 256 people who were randomly selected. This gives us the chance to provide evidence about who attended the March for Our Lives and why.
Like other resistance protests, and like previous gun-control marches, the March for Our Lives was mostly women. Whereas the 2017 Women’s March was 85 percent women, the March for Our Lives was 70 percent women. Further, participants were highly educated; 72 percent had a BA or higher.
Contrary to what’s been reported in many media accounts, the D.C. March for Our Lives crowd was not primarily made up of teenagers. Only about 10 percent of the participants were under 18. The average age of the adults in the crowd was just under 49 years old, which is older than participants at the other marches I’ve surveyed but similar to the age of the average participant at the Million Moms March in 2000, which was also about gun control.
Participants were also more likely than those at recent marches to be first-time protesters. About 27 percent of participants at the March for Our Lives had never protested before. This group was less politically engaged in general: Only about a third of them had contacted an elected official in the past year, while about three-quarters of the more seasoned protesters had.
Even more interesting, the new protesters were less motivated by the issue of gun control. In fact, only 12 percent of the people who were new to protesting reported that they were motivated to join the march because of the gun-control issue, compared with 60 percent of the participants with experience protesting. …
The March for Our Lives had the allure of a free concert — in fact, the event’s website maintained a list of performers but never listed the speakers. But it is one thing to turn out to watch Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ariana Grande perform, and quite another to vote in the midterm election in November.