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Columns Tom Baxter

A new generation speaks, with the brashness of South Florida

Graphic by New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/02/15/us/florida-school-shooting-map.html

By Tom Baxter

Out of all the schools that have been shot up in this country, what was it about this one that has caused the reaction to differ from those in the past?

Some gun control opponents have accused the other side of manipulating the students who have spoken out so vocally after the shooting which killed 17 people last Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Given the frequency with which both left and right have exploited their children for political purposes in the past, there’s ample room to be suspicious.

But there was nothing coached about the response of sophomore Sarah Chadwick, who told the president of the United States on Twitter the morning after the shooting that he could keep his condolences, in words that were raw, obscene and immediate. It has been a long time since Americans, collectively, have heard their children talk back to them in the way that a number of outspoken and highly articulate students who survived the shooting have in the past few days.

Parkland is a lot closer to Mar-a-Lago than the middle of America, which has a lot to do with why this school shooting story hasn’t followed the predictable script of past mass shootings. It’s in a very blue county — Broward voted 2-1 for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But just as important, it’s in a very wired place, which is close to a lot of our national nerve endings.

Douglas High is named after a famed conservationist and feminist. It’s the kind of school that scores high on state performance ratings. It offers courses like the history of the Holocaust — we know this because that was one of the classrooms where students were killed. It has a diverse student body, and while it’s in an affluent area, its student body comes from a wide enough socioeconomic range to include the shooter and the wounded son of one of the sheriff’s deputies called to the shooting scene last week.

There have been shootings in other upscale suburban schools, and many parents and students who have spoken out about their frustration that nothing ever seems to be done about them. What has set the Douglas students apart, from that first tweet, has been a South Florida, Miami-style brashness, cutting enough to get the attention of Donald Trump.

“We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks. Not because we’re going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America, but because… we are going to be the last mass shooting,” senior Emma Gonzalez said at a gun control rally Saturday in Fort Lauderdale.

She told People Magazine she finished writing her speech, which is likely to be remembered for a long time, only moments before she stepped before the microphones. Trump is said to have paid close attention to media coverage of the students over the weekend, so he couldn’t have missed her.

The White House has announced that Trump will have a “listening session” with Douglas students later this week. This may only be a superficial exercise, but it comes at an interesting time, for the gun issue, for the president, and for the nation’s youth.

The current situation of the National Rifle Association and Facebook make for an interesting comparison. Both have been the heavyweight champions of their respective fields, both may have been used by the Russians and both have to manage a period in which being the heavyweight champion isn’t necessarily an advantage. But unlike Facebook, the NRA is caught between a suddenly more motivated resistance and a core constituency which will be furious if Congress doesn’t pass the nationwide concealed carry bill by the end of the year.

Trump has so many problems that the Washington Post quoted an anonymous White House official as saying the shootings came as “a distraction or a reprieve.”

It’s the youth for which this is the most interesting and potential important juncture. Douglas High has made a distinctive mark, but look around the country, including Metro Atlanta, and there are a lot of schools like it, with similar demographics and similar vulnerabilities. Unlike the 1960s, these kids can connect through social media, around a lot of issues. That could make for a very interesting decade.

Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.


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  1. Caroline Lyon February 19, 2018 7:22 pm

    Shame on the Washington Post. Those kinds of remarks are not helpful.Report

  2. Chris Johnston February 19, 2018 9:18 pm

    The youth mentioned have either never read the US Constitution and amendments, or believe the “progressives” who teach them that the Constitution does not matter.Report

  3. Urban gardener February 20, 2018 9:50 am

    The students’ response is exactly what I would expect to hear from Grady HS students.

    To Chris Johnston, freedom of speech still ranks higher than freedom to own an AK-47 at the age of ??, at least until the Constitution is changed. How exactly do the students who wish laws to be changed demonstrate they never read the Constitution?

    Mr Baxter, it’s widely reported the Russian bots quickly seized on the shooting to sow more discord.

    Carolyn Lyon, the WPost reported WH comments, how is that unhelpful? Did you not comprehend what was written? Punkbot?Report

    1. Chris Johnston February 20, 2018 10:37 am

      I suggest you re-read the US Constitution as amended. In no place does it state that Amendment 1 takes precedence over Amendment 2. Both must be satisfied, unless further amendments are added.
      It seems the political left would like to be rid of both Amendments 1 and 2.Report

      1. Dana Blankenhorn February 20, 2018 11:01 am

        You are correct that Constitutional provisions do not take “precedence” over one another in Constitutional law. The three branches are co-equal, even though Article I is about the Legislature, Article II the Executive and Article III the judicial.

        The charge that “the political left would like to be rid of both Amendments 1 and 2” is, however, deliberately provocative. Amendment 2 does not say what you think it does. It was a militia amendment, and under US vs. Miller (1935) did not stop states and localities from banning gun ownership outright. Even D.C. vs. Heller (2008) did not prohibit gun control measures, as you may think. Read it. It was written by Antonin Scalia.

        That said, no amendment is “absolute.” You can say what you want, but you are still responsible for what you say. The First Amendment only covers government action prohibiting speech, not private action rejecting speech or speakers. My speech and writing remains subject to criticism. So does yours.Report

        1. Chris Johnston February 20, 2018 1:13 pm

          Judging by current progressive political campaigns and academia, I think I am correct that the left wing would luke to be rid of Amendments 1 and 2. Diversity is tolerated only when expressed opinions coincide with theirs.Report

  4. Carol Muldawer February 20, 2018 10:21 am

    Congratulations to the outspoken students(victims) of this terrible crime. I am so proud that they want to help change our gun laws to make schools safer. They are willing to do what our congress and president fail to want to do. The NRA is blood money being accepted eagerly by our representatives. Every dollar they take is another bullet.Report

  5. gcwilson08 February 20, 2018 10:26 am

    After Parkland shooting, people have little choice on voting
    After the Parkland, Fla. shootings, Author Jon Meacham, said on Morning Joe: “There’s a huge opening here for a significant moment of leadership. If you’re a United States senator or if you’re the president of the United States, this is a moment where you can speak out against the interest group that has an outsized influence over the lives of our children [the National Rifle Association].

    “Speak out, take them on. We remember political leaders, we remember generations – because this is not just the leaders, it’s also us. We remember those leaders and those generations who stand up against clear, self-evident wrongs. This is a self-evident wrong. And if I were in the United States Senate today or the White House today, I’d be thinking that this is a moment to stand up and be counted.”
    Will Trump and the Republican dominated legislatures standup? This is highly doubtful.
    Trump viscerally felt the reaction from his crowds during the campaign when he gave full-throated pitches for gun rights. And no organization stuck by Trump like the NRA did. The group spent $30 million helping elect him. Furthermore, the Associated Press reported: “President Donald Trump is calling for a focus on mental health and school safety ,responding to shootings like the one that took 17 lives in Florida.” However, his budget would cut funding in both areas.
    Here is what needs to happen:
    • Reinstate the federal assault-weapons ban, passed in 1994 but allowed to lapse 10 years 2004 Under Bush;
    • Raise the age to buy firearms to 21;
    • Trump opted to exclude fugitives from the background-check database unless they crossed state lines; that removed 500,000 names from the list; and
    • Kill the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act.
    We suspect that none of the above will happen with Republicans. So, the only choice is to vote Democratic and not Republican.
    As CNN’s Joan Walsh said,” I want to remind everyone about Virginia 2017: In the 13 races where pro-gun control Democrats squared off against NRA Republicans, Democrats won 12.”
    Finally, while voting for Democrats is no guarantee that they’ll begin to solve the gun violence problem, voting for Republicans is a stone-cold, absolute, ironclad, 100 percent guarantee that we won’t.Report

  6. Deana Womack February 21, 2018 4:33 am

    Great article about these brave young people from Parkland. They give us all hope for the future.Report


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