Parkland students David Hogg and Emma González can bring something genuine to the otherwise stalled debate on gun control.
They have a national platform, fresh perspective, the benefit of not being corrupted yet by cynicism, and the awful distinction of having lived through a school shooting.
Yet, the two teens, whose faces have graced social media and cable news television almost nonstop since the Feb. 14 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, appear to have succumbed to the easy allure of partisan activism and demagoguery, choosing personal insults and party-based attacks over substantive policy debate.
Hogg, 17, has used his megaphone to accuse the NRA of harboring “child murderers.” He claims Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, should be “held accountable” for the massacre, while Broward County’s Democratic sheriff, a duly elected official whose department ignored multiple early warnings and declined to engage the shooter as he was on his rampage, should be given a break. He said NRA national spokeswoman Dana Loesch’s chief motivation is to “sell more guns" and that she “doesn't care about these children's lives.”
His Parkland colleague, Emma González, 18, has struck a similar partisan tone against pro-Second Amendment advocates and lawmakers.
After the Florida Senate rejected legislation banning so-called assault weapons, she claimed Sunshine State lawmakers are, “actively rooting for our deaths now.” During a CNN town hall on gun policy, González said to Loesch, who is a mother, “[W]e will support your two children in the way that … you will not.” She said elsewhere of her critics, “They hate us for smiling, they hate us for crying, they hate us for speaking, they hate us for being alive – they hate us.”
This stuff may tantalize pro-gun control advocates, but that’s it. It certainly won’t win over many NRA members, which is the biggest flaw in this approach. Hogg and González appear to believe they can achieve their policy goals, whatever those may be, by having the NRA disbanded. They are not accounting for the NRA’s millions of dues-paying (and, more importantly, voting) members.
The Parkland teens can help spark a good-faith dialogue between the two camps, but not if they embrace strict partisanship and write off the very source of the organization's power. Referring to the NRA as a bunch of “child murderers” will have the exact opposite effect of bringing together both sides. The same goes for accusing lawmakers of “rooting” for dead teenagers. To get lost in the weeds of corporate boycotts, as opposed to actual policy proposals, is to lose the plot.
The gun debate is overrun already with bitter personal attacks, which is to say Hogg and González bring nothing new to the table if they bring only demagoguery.
Gun violence deserves a serious conversation. We don’t need another Sean Hannity or Joy Reid poisoning the dialogue with resettlement and distrust.
We need more earnest participants. We need more fresh voices. Hogg and González can be those earnest voices if they want it.