Generationally, we are on something of a losing streak. The Baby Boomers are a bust; Gen X’ers are living up to our low expectations, and the Millennials have been bashed enough without me joining in. Right now the next Generation, “Z” (those born after the year 2000), are having their first public moment as leaders in the movement against gun violence; they are demonstrating capability for expression and action.
But while Gen Z is in the spotlight, this is a also an opportunity for older generations to show some resolve, specifically around the issue of school walkouts. This does not mean to take the easy route of punishing kids — as the administration in Needville, Texas, has threatened to do — for taking a brave stand on the issue of gun control.
The right thing is for the school community — like the Portland School Superintendent Xavier Botana, the School Board, teachers, and parents — to stand beside their students. This means supporting upcoming days of action like the March 14 (National School Walkout) and the March 24 "March for Our Lives" in Washington D.C. and elsewhere. The administration should set an example by closing school, organizing programs, and providing transport to demonstrations. Aside from fostering goodwill, school cancellations could further normalize radicalism (your feelings on that may vary). But even more importantly, actions like these are integral to one’s education. Schools have begun to teach their students grit, let this be a lesson for all involved.
Taking a stand against gun violence should not require much soul-searching. Our gun culture is a vile, juvenile celebration of base, penile screen entertainment. Shooting ranges and firing at inanimate targets are akin to, but wholly less satisfying than, masturbation. But if it were that gun culture were limited to mild diversions of movies and video games it might not be so bad. The ugly side of gun culture — that which is a manifestation of fear, paranoia, xenophobia, and hate — is the craven notion of guns' utility for a type of “protection” while sitting at home or out in public. Acceptance and glorification of guns is the problem.
Someday, someone will invent a gun condom. But until that time, school shootings can happen anywhere — including Portland, Maine, which has lax gun laws. [If the notion of a school shooter seems remote, so may have been the odds of police shooting of a black man, until Portland Police Officer Nicholas Goodman put a bullet into the head of Chance David Baker last winter on Saint John Street.]
Leaders are paid to make difficult decisions. Shuttling Maine students to Augusta or D.C. would tap into fiscal and logistical resources, but those could be met largely from in-kind and private donations. The bigger political lift would be to stand up to legal challenges, right-wing backlash, and bureaucratic inertia that might oppose closing schools for all the wrong reasons. But this is an opportunity for leaders and the community to show what in German is known as sivilcourage — civil courage — the strength needed to take a difficult or unpopular position on the grounds of being the right thing to do. Sticking one’s neck out is never easy, but should a tragedy happen, can we all say that we did everything in our power to prevent it. If not, where does the blame fall for the next tragedy?