Last week, high school students around the country participated in a nationwide walkout to protest the high number of school shootings happening in the U.S. The goal of this protest was to bring awareness to the issue and to show that students not yet old enough to vote are demanding change. Students spent 17 minutes outside in memory of the 17 lives lost at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last month. While this was an appropriate use of one’s constitutional right to free speech, these kids had no business protesting a matter that is much more complicated than they realize.
Protesting to bring awareness to the issue of mass shootings in this country is like protesting the inadequacies of quality toilet paper in public restrooms. We all know it’s a problem, no one knows how to fix it, and it hurts every time someone is reminded it is a problem. We do not require protesters to be walking out of class to bring awareness to an issue that gets front and center coverage by news outlets every time it happens. What we do need is intelligent conversations happening in local, state, and federal governmental bodies, and that is not going to be improved by walking out of school for 17 minutes.
The students protesting probably do not even know their state’s current enacted gun legislation. How can they say they are being responsibly engaged in current events if they do not even know the first thing about how guns are being regulated in their own states? Protesting something you know nothing about is like a millennial stepping foot into Whole Foods for the first time. It is dramatic, they think it is a big deal, but no one actually cares.
There are a number of things the students could have done instead of walking out of the classroom that would have been dramatically more effective. The students who walked out should have gone back inside of their schools and sat with the most bullied kids in their schools during lunch. Making these kids feel accepted rather than continually ostracizing them to the point of one of them cracking and shooting up a school is far more effective than protesting. Doing this could effectively change the entire bullying culture within high schools.
Another thing students who walked out could have done instead is go online and educate themselves on current gun legislation enacted by their states’ legislatures. Knowing what gun control measures are currently in place can give immense context to how responsible their legislatures are in terms of passing common sense gun control policies. At the end of the day, these walkouts were a protest about the lack of effective gun legislation. Knowing what kind of gun legislation your state has passed would give you enough information to then write a letter to your local representatives expressing your concerns more formally.
Lastly, the students should have gone back into their classrooms to finish high school, get their diplomas, and get credentials to more effectively lobby for public policy measures on gun control. Going on various news and media outlets to say how much they hate school shootings without having done their research on current gun legislation only further ostracizes those who are against stricter gun legislation but also want to prevent mass shootings. Yes, you heard me correctly. There are people in this world who do not favor increased gun regulation and also want to prevent more mass shootings, but they want to do so through different means, such as an increased focus on diagnosing and treating those suffering from mental illnesses in the U.S. (see my previous piece titled “End the stigma to end shootings”).
The news coverage around the walkout is politically motivated; there is no question. Media outlets are using students as fodder to bully legislators into passing unnecessarily strict gun control measures. Becoming responsibly engaged in the world does not include this kind of biased and politically motivated news coverage. If you care about a public policy issue so much that you would be willing to walk out of school, please go educate yourself on it, write to your legislators about it, and engage other people in conversation about it before you act too irrationally and do something you may regret.