Politics & Policy

The ‘March for Our Lives’ Moral Panic

Participants hold up signs as students and gun control advocates hold the “March for Our Lives” event demanding gun control after recent school shootings at a rally in Washington, U.S., March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Saturday’s “March for Our Lives” carried the acrid whiff of moral panic. That the driving force behind the display was genuine — the event was planned and led by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who are passionate advocates of gun control — is beyond doubt. But not all that is earnest is sensible, and this was a not a sensible display. Although it was invoked incessantly, as if part of a catechism, “common sense” was notably lacking from the streets and from the stage.

It is universally acknowledged in America that the death of an innocent person is a tragedy worth our attention. Where we differ is on what can — and should — be done to prevent the next one. That there exists in this country a range of considered and heartfelt opinion as to how a free society should respond to savage mass shootings apparently hasn’t occurred to the march’s participants. Repeatedly, those who disagreed with the ill-considered prescriptions of the speakers were cast as shills or monsters, or as traitors to their country, their faith, and their posterity. The worst of the vitriol was cast at Senator Marco Rubio, a man who has been more open and accommodating than most in the wake of the Parkland shooting, but who has been repaid for his efforts with attacks on his character, his sincerity, and his religious beliefs. He was far from the only target. To listen to the parade of hostility was to be told that to support the Second Amendment is to be a revanchist, an outcast, or a vassal. An exercise in persuasion this was not.

Indeed, while one would not have known it from the hyperbole, gun violence is not on the increase. Rather, it has been dramatically reduced over the last 30 years, even as the number of guns in circulation has doubled, the laws governing the keeping and bearing of arms have been loosened almost everywhere, and the Second Amendment has surged in popularity. Likewise, school shootings — which, it must be acknowledged, were already incredibly rare — have diminished in number. Had these developments occurred after the imposition of strict gun control, reformers would no doubt have claimed victory — just as they did in the nations that adopted an opposite policy to America’s and saw precisely the same trend line.

Bluntly put, there is no meaningful way in which students in the United States are being forced to march “for their lives.” Children today live in an America that is safer than it has been at any point since the 1960s. One’s chance of being killed in a school is around six times lower than one’s chance of being hit by lightning. Hideous as it was, the event that precipitated Saturday’s march was a classic “black swan” attack, the solution to which is not at all obvious.

Nonetheless, many of the marchers basked openly in the comforts of simplicity, monomania, and crass demonization. Evidently, the leaders of this movement do not respect those they oppose, and so they dehumanize them. They do not value the Second Amendment, and so they dismiss it. They do not know — or care — that hundreds of thousands of Americans use guns in self-defense each year, and so they cast the right as all downside. Their knowledge is shallow and their focus is narrow, as one would reasonably expect of teenagers.

These shortcomings can be forgiven in the youthful advocates; they, after all, were thrust cruelly into the spotlight of someone else’s volition. But one cannot be so kind to the adults who are encouraging them — and, in some cases, who are cravenly hiding behind them waving the bloody shirt. There is argument, and there is agitation. There is discourse, and there is propaganda. There is reflection, and there is reaction. The show that the marchers put on this weekend was untethered from reality and from civility. It deserves to be treated as such.


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