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After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas mass shooting, young high school students spoke out eloquently and with passion. The reactions of many in the media and the political leadership as well as the general public have been one of surprise and disbelief. Many grownups took note that these students seem mature beyond their age.

Benjamin Kelly, staff to Florida’s representative Shawn Harrison, went so far as to email a journalist, claiming two of the more outspoken students were hired actors. Students Emma Gonzales and David Hogg were not actors as claimed, and Kelly was quickly fired.

But for many high school teachers or university professors this is not a surprise. Beyond my engineering-related courses I taught some general education classes with students from across the disciplines. The students’ intelligence and thoughtfulness never ceased to amaze me. In fact, the diversity of views and the empathy for opposing views in those young students have been the source of optimism in me and I think for many of my colleagues.

So, when high school students spoke with such clarity and expressed their views with such passion, we had to remind ourselves those were our children and not the grownups they seem to be. The same students reminded us in their shaky but resolved voices they are children who want to go to school and feel safe. “You are the adults – please do something,” they demanded.

These students are the ones who have to deal with the consequences of the voting of their parents and grandparents. Unfortunately, the parents and grandparents vote with an eye on the past and often with partisan emotion and then students will have to deal with the consequences of those votes in the future. It is possible the adults are radicalized and divided by foreign trolls on our social media.

But, we may find soon the partisan hot buttons like Planned Parenthood on one side and the NRA on the other side will lose their effectiveness as dividers of Americans for the current generation of youth. They are focused on the results of our actions and not the political emotions and partisan politics.

Nearly two decades ago, students in a general education course I taught discussed the issue of guns and schools. On arming the teachers some suggested a small emergency box with a combination lock for storing guns in each classroom to communicate the combination numbers to the teachers to open in case of emergency. Opposing arguments were presented with the scary scenario of several teachers engaging Columbine-style shooters in a shootout while students hide behind thin drywall partitioned classrooms.

On arming the teacher, students argued teachers too share the same statistics in social issues as everyone else. There are mental illnesses, stalking spouses, animosities, anger managements and other ailments that afflict members of the society. Add the stand your ground prerogative and we may see decades of teacher shootings before we wake up to the fact this may not be without unforeseen consequences. In summary, the class could not find a simple answer.

The issues are complex because society is faced with trying to balance constitutional rights with a need to protect our children in schools and innocent people at public gatherings. The argument the Florida case was a law enforcement failure because the 19-year-old shooter had shown signs of trouble is not comforting.

The shooter in Las Vegas had shown no indication he was going to commit mass murder and hurt so many people. Eventually, the solution, however partial it may be, will come from the actions of our youths whose minds are not cluttered with partisan suspicions and emotional inability to come together.

Lou Honary is a retired professor and researcher at the University of Northern Iowa. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of the University of Northern Iowa.


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