Watch your mouth kid, the whole country is listening

Emma Gonzalez

From behind a podium in Florida last week, Emma Gonzalez said plenty. Much of what she has said the last several days has been said before, sort of.

A sample of her tone was directed toward our nation’s political class.  She said to a mourning crowd, mocking the old guard “that us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works—we call B.S.!”

I mourn the kids from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who died February 14. I love the ones who survived.

I tend to agree with the survivors’ underlying message, which helps me be a fan, but that is secondary for purposes of this column. They are rattling cages. And it is refreshing to watch.

There has been an abundance of protesting lately in America. The “resist” movement is getting people off of the couch who had grown far too comfortable there. Of course, I’m talking about old people when I say that. I can say “old” because I certainly qualify. And please don’t misunderstand me on this, I support activism in general and not just the brand with which I agree.

This is a special moment I hope our nation does not overlook. Obviously, the catalyst for this movement was a catastrophe that hopefully does not recur. But part of the uniqueness of the moment is that the young people speaking out today are the actual victims of the catastrophe. I hope that part is never the case again.

The other part is a belief that speaking up actually matters. That is the thing that the old people in this country need to help make sure remains true. Young people need to know that what they are saying is important. Not because it represents some cliché participation trophy, but because their perspective can help us old folks hear B.S. with fresh ears. 

That’s what these kids are giving us more than anything: fresh ears.

David Hogg is one of Gonzalez’ classmates. He was a prominent target of conspiracy theorists who wanted the public to believe that these young people were actors. While we are discussing B.S., this is on top of the list. Hogg’s dad happens to be an FBI agent, as if that matters. 

“I haven’t lost hope in America, and my dad hasn’t either,” is a sample of what this young man said. He is 17 years old. He has already taken more from the mysterious and cowardly opposition on gun issues than anyone should have to take. And he appears unphased by it. Stay strong, kid.  We need you to stay strong. 

Perspective is the thing that is changing the conversation on gun violence this time.

I have had some conversations with my guns rights friends these last few days. I am not friends with the NRA’s Dana Loesch and Wayne LaPierre. The people I have talked to are beginning to sound more reasonable than ever. My pals are making suggestions to me like, “be specific about the policy you want” and we might be able to agree. “Quit attacking the person who believes in gun ownership…” and maybe we can make a change together.

I ask things like “how about investing in a background check system that is as important to you as social security numbers, citizenship records, or voter rolls?” Or “how about having the Centers for Disease Control do research on how to identify mass shooters before they kill?”

These questions got me treated like David Hogg last year, but now 2nd Amendment lovers are actually thinking before they answer them.

The conversation is changing. These young people are responsible for it.

I hope all of this results in progress on America’s gun violence problem as much as anyone. But I also want to see the experience our nation is having, by listening to a new perspective, teach us a lesson that is more broad. When the same group of people keep having the same fruitless arguments over and over, sometimes the answer to the conflict is as simple as listening to someone with a different perspective.

Gonzalez, Hogg and their friends are not really suggesting anything that hasn’t been suggested before. It’s just that it sounds so much more clear coming from them. They are suggesting solutions to us that are inspiring in their simplicity and familiarity.

And their intentions are pure.

So, kids, watch your mouths. Make sure whatever it is that comes out of them is as honest as everything you have said so far. The world is listening. If you keep doing this right, it just might become a habit.

For all of us.

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Michael Leppert

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