At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School north of Fort Lauderdale in Parkland, a teacher, two coaches and 14 teenagers were living the American dream before they were targeted in what became our nation’s nightmare.
There are no words to console a grieving parent or a sibling or a friend. None, not when lives so young are lost with such cruel suddenness.
Yet from the embers of despair a new voice of collective reason is emerging from those too young to vote but old enough to spark a movement, who have seen one too many school shootings and heard one too many excuses to look the other way.
I call them the “Perennials,” tens of millions of social media-savvy 12- to 17-year-olds with little tolerance for politicians who use half-baked promises and halfhearted commitments to avoid taking responsibility for anything.
By Merriam-Webster’s definition, Perennials (“lasting” “enduring” “constant” and “imperishable”) may be here to stay, and their role in the national conversation will be based on the most disarming kind of communication known: telling it like it is.
Over the past week, these newly energized Perennials have become the teachers, and we their students. Instead of depending on advanced degrees and experience born from advancing age, they’ve shown worldly wisdom that defies both time and origin.
We must do more than listen to them; we need to learn from them. Unlike their elders, they are unbiased and unabashed, asking questions most have avoided and few have answered.
In a modern-day redux of the Jewish tradition where the youngest child asks “the four questions” to learn the meaning of Passover, these young Americans want to know the meaning behind gun laws that are too often relaxed and never tightened in Florida.
The four-part Perennial quiz on guns goes something like this:
1. Why should an 18-year-old in Florida be allowed to purchase a military-style assault rifle designed not for sport but for killing human beings?
2. Why were so many warning signs not acted upon, and student input dismissed, by school officials and legal authorities before a disturbed teenager morphed into a one-man killing machine?
3. Why can’t we have reasonable regulations on gun ownership, or is the NRA’s slippery slope argument right, that even one tough regulation would mark the beginning of the end of the Second Amendment (an apocalyptic view which holds that all guns would be confiscated and gun owners persecuted)?
4. Why on God’s green Earth should any mom or dad be left to fear that their kiss goodbye to their child in the morning before school could be the last time they see them?
The standard Republican response in the past would have been to dismiss the Parkland shooting as one person’s delusional vendetta, that it has nothing to do with gun regulations being weak or strong.
It’s different this time, different than Sandy Hook or Las Vegas or the Pulse nightclub, as the horror of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shootings are replayed over and over again on television and in the mind. It is leaving even the staunchest of apologists with no place to hide, and the feeblest of excusers nowhere to go.
This time, the Perennials are in play, and they’re keeping the issue alive by growing their following one tweet, one Instagram, one Snapchat at a time.
Defenders of the Second Amendment should be the first to condemn these mass murders, and they should be outraged enough to insist on commonsense solutions that could stop gun violence before more young bodies are eternally laid to rest.
There are historical precedents for this, where Americans respond to tragedy by coming together. From last century’s Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that spurred better conditions in the workplace, to Osama bin Laden’s assault on America this century that fueled the war on terrorism, adversity can unite opinion and inspire action.
For the sake of our children, leaders of both political parties should come together, tighten regulations and upgrade school safety standards. It would forever be remembered as a rare act of selflessness forged from strength not weakness, responsibility not retreat.
If they don’t, they’re going to hear, loud and clear, from America’s newest political movement, where young people are speaking truth to power.
George Bernard Shaw once said that youth is wasted on the young. Today, marching under the banner of #NeverAgain, the Perennials (“constant” “continuing” “unceasing” and “unfailing”) are out to prove him wrong.
Adam Goodman is a national Republican media consultant based in St. Petersburg and the first Edward R. Murrow Fellow at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.