You have to hand it to them, over the past few weeks we've watched our youngest generation put down Tide Pods and pick up microphones. They took a tragedy and turned it into a national conversation, something many have been hesitant to do after recent mass shootings. For the moment, they've energized their peers and transformed them from being fixated on their phones to being focused on an issue. This is something I welcome and applaud, but it's what they do next that really matters.
Some have tried to make the case that these students have not and will not accomplish anything. To agree with that sentiment you basically have to ignore the gun and school safety legislation that recently became law here in Florida. For a bill that sweeping to pass so quickly in a state like this is quite an accomplishment. There were also measures passed in the recent omnibus spending bill at the federal level that shouldn't be ignored. However, these students have set their sights much higher than both of those examples. This is where the real fight begins.
The rallies over the weekend were almost exactly as I imagined them to be, both inspiring and frustrating. The activism was great yet some of the rhetoric was not. It's important to keep in mind that these are kids we're talking about, young Americans who just experienced a tragedy most of us can't even fathom. However, that shouldn't shield them from receiving heartfelt advice or warranted criticism. We do these students a disservice if we simply enable them to use their national platform to continue to promote ideas without being held accountable for what they're saying.
Just as it isn't right for some who opposes their message to slander or spread false information about them, it isn't right for some of the young leaders of this movement to slander people or spread false information about the issue at hand. If we want the next generation to do better we can't simply stand by when they slip up. We must teach them that winning an argument and persuading people to join a movement takes more than clever slogans and creative stunts.
My suggestion to the students looking to create a real, lasting change is to spend less time advocating and more time learning. Understand the issue of gun control inside and out. Read up on the specifics about firearms that always come up during a debate on the subject. Spend time researching the arguments for and against a less expansive view of the Second Amendment. Gain a better understanding of the cultural and geographical components that can complicate seemingly "common sense" reforms. Instead of speaking to the national media, speak to those on the other side of the issue to see where some compromises can be reached.
The leaders of March for Our Lives appear to be in a sprint for major changes to our gun laws, and given what they've experienced that's understandable. However, it's also not realistic. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and seemingly small changes can actually be extremely substantial. Improving and expanding background checks, federalizing gun violence restraining orders and fighting for additional revenue for school security would all be big wins. Each of those policies would make our country safer and enjoys broad support. That's not to say bigger issues (bans on "assault weapons" and high-capacity magazines) shouldn't be debated, but taking what you can get right now is a good way to build momentum and prove that you're a force to be reckoned with. Most importantly, vote if you're of age and get involved even if you're not. At the end of the day, the polls are where change really happens.
Any time our youngest generation chooses to engage in the most important issues of our day over eating Tide Pods, it's a win for America.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images.