This week, the reports of students taking to the streets to demand Congress enact gun-control legislation dominated the news. While some people argue about the issues of gun control and others debate the size of the student movement itself, the very real fact is that many young people across Alabama and the nation are forming their political opinions – right now.
Many of the students are scared, and preying on their fear is a special sort of political predator. Those political opportunists have manipulated the young people to suit and push their own agenda.
For instance, this past Saturday, organizer Kenneth Sharpton Glasgow led an anti-gun rally through the streets of downtown Dothan. The following day, Glasgow was booked into the Houston County Jail on charges of capital murder for his involvement in the shooting death of a 23-year-old woman. One can reasonably conclude that Glasgow has disingenuous interest in gun control, and that his rally was motivated by some other political agenda. I was not there. I do not know what agenda he may have promoted, but I have no doubt that students and parents alike were in attendance and were supportive of his efforts.
In response to last weekend’s student marches, I’ve seen and heard conservatives in the various media platforms utter an all-too-often uniform response: Let’s make fun of or belittle the students for demanding change.
Notice what I said: The students are demanding change, and as well they should. They have every right to be concerned about their own safety, and they should have every expectation that we, as leaders of the free world, will come up with a solution to protect them. Instead of embracing their concerns, though, too many Republicans and conservatives alike are ostracizing the students for their beliefs.
Galatians 6:10 reminds us that “as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone.”
These students held signs that said catchy, but in my opinion misinformed things, such as “Fight Crime, Defeat the NRA” and “Hey GOP, how did you NAZI [not see] this coming?” Others held signs that said, “I don’t feel safe at my school.”
To the latter, let me say, as a conservative Republican, I am sorry you do not feel safe at school. I hear your concerns and impassioned pleas. They do not fall on deaf ears. Trouble is, those students holding the signs expressing their fear and concern are also reading those signs belittling the NRA and the GOP.
And the loudest conservative response to all of them seems to be: “Suck it up, buttercup.”
What an opportunity we are missing.
No, they may not vote in the next election cycle, but they will one day. This is a great opportunity for conservatives across the nation to embrace the legitimate concerns of students and mentor them, such that they understand that gun control is no more the solution to school shootings as car control would be to DUI-related fatalities.
Instead of alienating them, let us engage them with conversations about adequate school resource officers and let us work to disarm their fears about the inanimate object that is – a gun. Instead of belittling these students, let us embrace them with our conservative compassion and our core beliefs – the belief that all life is valuable and worth protecting; the belief that a Constitutional right to bear arms is no more or less valuable than another’s right to free speech; the belief that all men are created equal and that age does not make us somehow more valuable; and that we truly do love our neighbors.
Younger generations are watching, and right now the conservative response is turning them away from our belief system. For their sake, I hope we change our response so we can educate them on the complexity of the issues and the benefits and necessity of the Second Amendment. For the nation’s sake, I hope we can engage the youth of today, mentoring them for the benefit of tomorrow.
Walt Merrell is the district attorney for the 22nd Judicial Circuit (Covington County) of Alabama. He is a lifelong Republican and a longtime member of the NRA. He is also an avid hunter and outdoorsman. Together with his wife and three girls, they spend a significant amount of time “in the woods or on the water.” They also manage an outdoors-based ministry, Shepherding Outdoors, @shepherdingoutdoors. You can also find him on Facebook @waltmerrell and @waltmerrellda and on Instagram at @waltmerrell. You can email him at [email protected].