To the student leaders of March For Our Lives:
I want to want to be on your side.
I want to want to support you.
If only for the reason that you’re trying to move your life forward while carrying this horrific experience.
I want you — with all the attention and influence you suddenly have — to extract something good from the evil you experienced.
But you’re making it hard.
You’re antagonizing the very Americans whose support you need. And by doing so, you’re going to make an awful situation worse, and you won’t be any closer to accomplishing your goals.
So, here’s some advice.
If your primary aim is, as your mission statement says, to eliminate school shootings, you may find some of it helpful.
1) If You Want Adults To Take You Seriously, Speak Like Adults
Last week’s CNN town hall, in addition to being angry, chaotic, and divisive, was, above all else, childish.
It reminded me of arguments I was party to in elementary, middle, and high school. It was where logic and reason went to die.
One of you told a sitting U.S. senator, a man 29 years his senior, “It's hard to look at you and not look down the barrel on an AR-15 and not look at [the school shooter]."
Most of America does not appreciate its children humiliating its adults, even those in Congress.
Another told a spokeswoman for gun rights that she and her friends "will support your children in a way that you will not."
That’s a sick thing to tell a mother simply because she doesn’t share your politics.
It was even sicker when some of you screamed “murderer” at her.
One of you tweeted about Senate Republicans, “They are Actively rooting for our deaths now.” In a few years, or a few decades, you’ll be ashamed of that tweet — hopefully.
Your victim status does not excuse you from basic decency nor does it immunize you from criticism.
If you choose to be on the public stage, if you want to be part of a decades-long debate concerning fundamental constitutional rights, talk like grown ups.
2) There Are Good People On The Other Side Of The Debate. And No, They Don’t Have Bad Motives.
I remember when I, like you, felt so sure in my beliefs that, in my mind, there was no other side. No legitimate opposition. I’ve since matured.
Maybe one day, when the intense, paralyzing, grief of this moment has waned, you’ll see that there are legitimate arguments on both sides of the gun control debate. Maybe more laws would help. Or maybe more laws would hurt. It's complicated.
I believe your side has some good points. I also believe gun ownership is both a natural right — to protect one’s life — and a societal necessity, to guard our freedom.
I didn’t make that up.
The Founders believed in it so strongly that they put it in the Bill of Rights. And they weren’t even in the NRA’s pockets. That must mean they really meant it.
Also consider that most supporters of the Second Amendment aren’t members of the NRA, not that it would matter if every single one was. They are as sincere in their beliefs as you are in yours.
Furthermore, the millions of Americans whom you’ve decided are your opponents are as equally opposed to getting shot as you are.
And they especially don’t want their kids to get shot.
Doesn’t that mean their motives are likely as pure as yours?
3) Using Your Victim Status As A Weapon Won’t Get You Far
Although I have thankfully never suffered the terror of what you suffered, for the purposes of public policy, that doesn’t actually matter.
When it comes to coping with severe trauma, you have credibility.
But as for debating the merits and demerits of firearm policy, you have none.
Being a victim or survivor of gun violence does not change that.
To illustrate, my brother died of cancer. Does that mean I get extra credibility points to argue for more government funding for his specific cancer? No.
When victim status is used as a political weapon, it is only to delegitimize the other side’s right to have a different opinion. It is to end the argument before reason gets a word in.
That could work, but it probably won’t. It has been the Democratic Party’s default, failed strategy after every mass shooting. Americans don’t buy it.
4) There Are Things Other Than More Gun Laws That Would Make Schools Safer. Talk About Them.
Why are you only talking about more gun laws?
But what is not complex is that the Broward County Sheriff’s Office had more than enough laws at its disposal to prevent the shooter from ever being able to carry out the attack.
So why are you only attacking the NRA?
For God’s sake, Dunce-in-Chief Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel is practically begging to be America’s village idiot. This dishonest charlatan’s deflection and politicking gets more absurd by the day.
His team received dozens of warnings about the shooter — even one from the shooter himself — and did nothing.
Once the massacre began, at least one armed deputy waited outside the building, and waited . . . and waited.
And one first responder said he was given orders to stand down and not enter the building, even though doing so could have saved the lives of some of the wounded students and teachers who were bleeding out.
And yet one of you, when asked about the conduct of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, shielded Scott Israel, instead blaming Florida’s Republican Governor, Rick Scott.
“He [Rick Scott] can’t just blame this on the bureaucracy and expect to get re-elected,” you said.
And then there’s the FBI, which was warned twice about the shooter. They, too, did nothing, and they don’t even have the excuse of being led by Scott Israel.
But instead of blaming the FBI, you blamed Donald Trump, because “the president is the boss of the FBI.”
It sometimes sounds like you’re more concerned with defeating Republicans in 2018 and 2020 than in holding accountable our law enforcement authorities who could have stopped or mitigated the massacre. I hope I’m wrong about that.
If your strategy for stopping school shootings is to stop bad people from getting guns in the first place (a good goal), there is no simple solution. And it’s unlikely that you’ve stumbled upon it in the last five minutes.
In a nation of over 300 million people — and nearly as many guns — anything short of a giant gun vacuum cleaner will, at best, tinker at the margins, and, at worst, increase the relative strength of bad guys.
But there are simple things we can do that would make school shootings virtually disappear. The first is radically improving school security. If your aim is school safety, you should want every school to have metal detectors and well-trained, professional, visible, armed guards.
Mass shooters may be evil, but most aren’t dumb. They tend to be meticulous planners. Most of them, if they knew that they’d be shot within seconds of opening fire, would choose a different target.
That’s called deterrence.
The few that wouldn’t choose a different target would be shot within seconds of opening fire.
That’s called security.
Our society has an unhealthy obsession with protecting our children from even the smallest, most unlikely, dangers. And yet our school buses have no seatbelts and our schools have no security.
5) Don’t Become Social Justice Warriors
Some of you became Twitter superstars over night. You’re famous . . . for at least a few more weeks.
What will you do with your fame?
Fight to make schools safer? Or join the chorus of social justice warrior activists that America has pressed mute on?
If the latter, you’re going to co-opt your own mission into irrelevance.
An example. One of you tweeted, “Here's a radical idea, how about we don't spend money on arming teachers we spend it educating students in S.T.E.M. so….we'll be able to create jobs in renewable, clean and independent American energy like wind and solar.”
Maybe arming teachers is a bad idea. But unlike wind and solar energy, it is related to school safety.
Stay on message. I’m saying that as someone who thinks your ideas won’t make schools safer.
Everything that you say or write in the next several weeks will live forever online.
As you grow older and wiser, you will want to be proud of how the high school version of yourself responded to this great evil that befell you, how you carried yourself around people who disagreed with you.
I admit, I'm skeptical you'll listen to any of my advice if you happen to read it. There are so many celebrities and politicians and journalists who are using you for their political and ideological ends. Who are telling you that you're doing a great job, and keep speaking truth to power, and don't let up the pressure one bit.
I mean, Oprah and Spielberg and Clooney are donating tons of money to your cause! That's pretty cool.
And I can only imagine the rush, even given these horrible circumstances, of being suddenly thrust into the national spotlight.
I hope you can pull something good out of what happened. But unless you start trying to catch more flies with honey, I suspect you won't.