By Matthew Schargel, Class of 2019
The tragic shooting in Parkland, Florida on February 14th shook the country to its very core. The killing of 17 students and faculty of Stoneman Douglas High School is another sad chapter in a continuing increase in mass shootings in America. I’ve grown up in this reality and the pattern is always the same: a shooting occurs, thoughts and prayers are offered as the community and nation attempt to heal, and then a national discussion arises on gun rights, mental health, etc. That cycle usually last for about a week and then the news cycle moves on.
This one feels different though. The victims of this attack were a part of a generation well aware of the impact of social media. As news of the attack broke, Twitter and YouTube were flooded with cell phone footage from students that were in the building as the massacre was taking place. Being able to witness footage from such a horrific event brought the rest of the country closer to the the shooting and put faces on the victims.
Many of the students of Stoneman Douglas High School appeared on national and local news programs to give testimony about what they witnessed and offered thoughts on if and how the government should move to enact stricter gun laws in light of yet another tragedy. These students displayed raw emotion and trauma, but at the same time they were clear in their message and mature beyond their years. Most are calling on the federal and state government to tighten gun laws and increase background checks. Marches across the nation have been planned and these new activists are showing no signs of wavering in their convictions.
The response to the students has been stark in its partisan nature. There is a rather strong and growing contingency in my party, the Republican Party, that wants to dismiss the opinion of these students because of their age and their policy suggestions. There is even a growing conspiracy that one of the students, David Hogg, who has been extremely outspoken, is a plant by Democrats and the media. This is disgusting and below the level of decency I have been raised to expect out of fellow human beings.
The rejection of young people in the political realm is something I am used to. I first got involved in local politics at the age of 15 with my county Republican committee. Even though I was unable to vote, I was passionate about the American political system and about bettering my country, state, and local community. I learned pretty quickly that there were people who would not take me seriously because of my age and that there were people on the other side of the aisle who rejected my views and dismissed me as someone who was “brainwashed” by my parents. Despite this, I kept my head up with the help of most of my peers who supported me and valued my involvement.
I am not going to agree with the Parkland students on everything but I believe that their passion and desire for change is too evident and important to ignore or brush to the side just because of their age or viewpoints. Americans already have a negative view of the state of politics in our country as faith in our leaders and institutions continue to dwindle. We should not stifle these voices. After all, America’s youth is the future and the issues facing us are far too important to sit on the sidelines until it’s “our turn.” We can be critical of their views, but to doubt their intentions is a grave mistake. I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment but I do not think these students are misguided in their intentions. They want what is best for their country and I commend them.
Despite the grave nature of this tragedy, I am still hopeful. I am hopeful that my generation will reject the status quo if our current leaders do not. There is enough room at the table for a respectful, constructive discussion over gun violence. Let’s hear the kids out.