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LGBTQ Nation: A traumatized generation is collateral damage in our unbounded right to bear arms

Walking by my town’s elementary school, I observed the flag in front hanging at half-mast. On a poll nearby, someone hung three shining blue mylar balloons in memorial to the three beautiful nine-year-old students cut down by a shooter at Covenant Elementary School in Nashville, Tennessee.

I thought then about the lives of the victims of this senseless and avoidable plague of gun violence engulfing the nation, affecting the young and old alike. I imagined what could have been possible for the victims whose lives had just begun and about the possibilities this shooter had deprived.

The perpetrators of this and similar crimes are the frontline perpetrators in an ongoing internal war on civility. They are aided and abetted by the legions of co-conspirators, legislators and other extremists who perpetuate the myth that any and all common-sense gun regulations infringe on their Second Amendment right to bear arms.

But what about our children’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? What about their rights to an education free from constant fears of being gunned down in their schools and communities?

What about all of our rights to walk down safe streets, to work in safe spaces, to shop and attend theaters, concerts, and community events without constantly looking over our shoulders for potential shooters who could take us out?

Legislators and some parents’ groups appear more concerned with banning books. But we must remember that dead youth can’t read books.

Legislators and some parents’ groups appear more concerned with barring discussions of Critical Race Theory, gender, and LGBTQ+ topics in classrooms.

But we must remember that dead youth can’t study anything. And they certainly can’t think about transitioning their gender, loving someone of the same sex, or using public facilities and playing on sports teams aligning with their gender identities.

I still have hope, though, in the youth-led firearms safety movement.

Demanding “Never Again,” “Enough Is Enough,” and “March for Our Lives,” and shouting “We Call BS” to the arguments against changing gun laws, a new generation of young people was launched into activism after a shooter’s bullets killed 17 and injured another 17 of their peers and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018.

Within a very short time, they have captured the imagination and admiration of those of us who have long hoped and fought for policy initiatives to bring an end to the senseless over-availability of firearms that kill tens of thousands of people annually in the U.S.

But as with all movements for progressive social change, a strong and powerful opposition stands in the way. Members of the conservative political Right, many of who represent the interests of gun manufacturers and their lobbyists, have long engaged in and are continuing to wage war against gun safety advocates, even when, especially when, these advocates are young people.

During this Trumpian-inspired Right-Wing cultural moment – within the context of declarations of “fake news,” “conspiracy theories,” “witch hunts,” and verifiable distortions and lies in reaction to anything and everything reported that goes against their agendas and “values” – the backlash to derail these new youth advocates by demeaning and impugning their integrity and motivation was predictable in its speed and ferocity.

People in the extreme crevices of the Right – through many of their supporters – accuse these young people of serving as pawns or co-conspirators of the Left’s anti-gun agenda, accusing them of being mere puppets who have been coached on what to say and how to say it.

On his radio show back in 2018, Rush Limbaugh called out the student activists: “Everything they’re doing is right out of the Democrat Party’s various playbooks. It has the same enemies: the N.R.A. and guns.”

Donald Trump Jr. joined in on the attacks of then-17-year-old David Hogg, one of the student leaders from Douglas High School, after Hogg criticized the Trump administration to protect his father, a former F.B.I agent.

Trump Jr. liked a Tweet referring to a YouTube video called, “Outspoken Trump-Hating School Shooting Survivor is Son of FBI Agent; MSM Helps Prop Up Incompetent Bureau.”

The Right also refers to Hogg and other student gun safety activists as “crisis actors.” During an interview following the shooting in 2018 with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Hogg responded to the charge: “I’m not a crisis actor. I’m someone who had to witness this and live through this, and I continue to be having to do that. I’m not acting on anybody’s behalf.”

With Douglas High School students observing from the balcony, Florida state legislators voted down, by a margin of nearly 2 to 1, a proposal to discuss the merits of banning AR-15 rifles in the state. In recent years, however, the movement has scored limited victories by lobbying state and national legislators to pass gun safety legislation, as meager as it has been. Other states have actually loosened gun laws, with many extending open and concealed firearms carry procedures.

And what are the emotional, physical, and educational tolls on students from preschool through high school who must endure continual “active shooter” drills, the “hardening” of schools with windowless classrooms, metal detectors, and armed guards on school grounds?

I asked this question to the 80 students in my undergraduate university class a day after the shooting at Nashville’s Covenant Elementary School. At first, they were surprised that I had suspended the scheduled discussion I had planned for that day.

I allowed a tense silence to continue for a few minutes until one student rather shyly raised her hand. She said that throughout all of those grade school years, with all the drills and the retrofitting of her school, no teacher or administrator had ever asked what students were feeling.

She expressed that “all of this had become so normalized. Like, we go to class, we go to the cafeteria for lunch, we go back to class, we have active shooter drills, we turn in our assignments, and we go to our afterschool sports activities.”  

Other students then raised their hands across the room, all agreeing with the first student who spoke. Others nodded their heads in full agreement.

With young people of every generation, serious and terrifying events saturate their lives both at a distance and close to home.

My parents’ generation suffered from the Great Depression, illnesses like Polio, and the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust; the U.S. government sent my generation to fight and die in Vietnam as I witnessed the body bags of my friends return home. Also within my generation and all of those following, the AIDS pandemic became an unwelcome presence inciting fear throughout our world.

The current generation has been affected not only by the Covid-19 pandemic but also by this plague of gun violence that increases year after year.

To date, according to The Washington Post, there have been 376 school shootings affecting 348,000 students since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.

We have to ask ourselves and our legislators whether any constitutional right is unbounded by gun legislation. We have to ask whether we love our young people more or less than we love AR-15 semiautomatic rifles – which the U.S. military developed as an effective killing machine used in the Vietnam War – and this so-called limitless freedom to bear arms.

I believe one of the litmus tests by which a society can be judged is the ways it treats its young people. On the issue of firearms, the litmus paper has turned a deep blood red.

LGBTQ Nation