Can Teenagers Solve Our Nation's Most Intractable Problem?

Teenagers Advocate for Themselves, and the Country

L. Gregory Lawton, MD


February 23, 2018

Can Teenagers Change Things?

Emma Gonzalez called the excuses for inaction on guns that have been voiced since Columbine by adults as she saw them:

The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and our parents to call BS. Companies trying to make caricatures of the teenagers these days, saying that all we are self-involved and trend-obsessed and they hush us into submission when our message doesn't reach the ears of the nation, we are prepared to call BS. Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats, funded by the NRA [National Rifle Association], telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this, we call BS. They say tougher guns laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS. They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS. They say guns are just tools like knives and are as dangerous as cars. We call BS. They say no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS. That us kids don't know what we're talking about, that we're too young to understand how the government works. We call BS. [7]

Teens know BS when they hear BS. They know that these mass shootings don't occur at nearly the rate in other countries as they do in the United States. They know that the United States doesn't have more mental health issues than other countries, only more guns.[8]

This is a group of teens who are holding the adults elected to represent them accountable. They know about lobbyists and the National Rifle Association. They know change happens at the ballot box and that voters are motivated by stories, pictures, rallies, and social media. They have witnessed the recent and phenomenally effective #MeToo campaign against sexual harassment.

Show a teenage David how to slay a Goliath, regardless of whether the Goliath is Harvey Weinstein, Bill O'Reilly, Steve Wynn, a writer at the New Yorker, a politician, or an editor at NPR, and you have shown her how the mighty can fall.

Teens have had #ENOUGH. Multiple events have been planned.

Women's March Youth EMPOWER is calling for students, teachers, school administrators, parents, and allies to take part in a #NationalSchoolWalkOut. Scheduled for March 14, 2018, the one month anniversary of the MSD shooting, students are urged to walk out for 17 minutes at 10 AM across all time zones to protest Congressional inaction and urge that more be done than tweeting thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.

A second #NationalSchoolWalkout is also being planned for April 21, the anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School.

MSD students have also announced the #MarchForOurLives, a march on Washington, DC, planned for Saturday, March 24.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has always stood for and with children, supporting policies that allow them to grow into happy and healthy adults. The AAP supports responsible gun safety measures and legislation, not because there's money in it for pediatricians, but because it is good healthcare policy.

There have been 438 people shot and 138 killed in school shootings since that terrible day, just 5 years ago, at Sandy Hook.[9] As a pediatrician, I am hopeful that the very nature of teenagers, the parts of them that simultaneously enliven and enrage, inspire and irritate, will succeed where adults have failed. Teenagers, part child, part grown-up, are advocating for themselves, and for all of us.

As a pediatrician, I could not be more proud. As an adult, I could not be more ashamed.

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