The Third World child soldier is a familiar image—a young boy (usually aged 14 or younger), dressed in ill-fitting fatigues, frequently smoking a cigarette and totting an AK-47. These soldiers are widely condemned and banned by international treaty, and for obvious reasons. Do these youngsters really grasp what they are fighting for? Are they sufficiently mature to make quick life or death choices during combat? Most of all, their recruitment obviously exploits gullible youngsters, an exploitation comparable to child prostitution or using children to run drugs or shoplift since authorities are reluctant to punish the very young. Put in legal terms, by virtue of their youth they are unable to give informed consent to their military enlistment.
Let me suggest that comparable element exist in the recent media-soaked mobilization of youngsters to score points against “the gun interests,” particularly the NRA to protest the shooting at Parkland, Florida. To be sure, the US is not the Central African Republic where armed boys really kill civilians, but the underlying moral issues are, sad to say, comparable. America has their child soldiers albeit unarmed ones. To use a term made famous by Vladimir Lenin, these kids are useful idiots.
It is unlikely that these pre-teens or teenagers have a minimal understanding of gun control, the Second Amendment, what due process means in this debate, the legal options schools have in protecting students, the relationship between mental illnesses and criminality, among other critical, inescapable gun-violence related issues. How many can accurately define “assault weapon”? Though liberal commentators will insist that as potential victims these youngsters possess a right to speak out, is this message sufficiently informed to justified public attention? Most adults are, no doubt, also ill-informed, but is public debate governed by the principle that adding yet more voices, regardless of cogency, elicits more intelligent discussions? Babble is not necessary a good guide to wise policy. Imagine a public debate over drunk driving and inviting eight-graders to suggest changes in DUI laws? Recall Art Linkletter’s Children Say the Darndest Things where tots offered their often screwball comical take on life for the amusement of adults.
Secondly, a situation where teachers bring their students to rallies should properly be classified as involuntary exposure to non-school sanctioned propaganda, not school-based civics. Insisting that “democracy requires citizens to be politically engaged, so QED, democracy requires dragging third-graders to an anti-gun rally” is sophistry. Concerned teachers could easily devise lesson plans that lay out multiple sides of this controversy, providing their students with pro and con materials all the while encouraging a frank classroom give and take. Students might even be assigned a paper evaluating both sides. How about if youngsters wrote letters to the NRA asking their side of the story? They might even learn about cities with extensive gun ownership that never had a school shooting.
Compare this in-class balanced format with the typical rally where countless speakers, all sharing identical views, without any rejoinders, pound away at the evil NRA etc. etc. while offering empty banalities about school shootings. How could any kid escape this one-side, hyperbole? For many youngsters, the likely take-away is that manufacturers of “assault” weapons want more school shooting to boost profits and the NRA is in cahoots with them. The familiar merchants of death argument “teaching” kids that guns, not people, kill people.
The tip-off to this fake “spontaneous” groundswell is that somebody must organize and pay for this “voice” while ensuring that the media is alerted to this “news.” Do dozens of school buses magically appear for free to transport these pint-sized activists and their teachers to a spot where somebody has arranged for bus parking, a sea of “handmade” signs, security to direct traffic, microphones, speaker lecterns and portable toilets? It exaggerates only slightly to compare these “impromptu” rallies to the well-scripted outpouring of popular support for Third World dictators when a BBC filming crew “suddenly” appears.
To be fair, these anti-gun rallies with their placard carrying child-soldiers are hardly new and are certainly not exclusively left-wing tactics. I have seen swarms of kids at pro-life demonstrations and elsewhere “demanding” school choice. It’s all about generating eye-catching publicity. Recall the old Vaudeville adage about never following an animal or children’s act—hard to top it.
The true culprit of these events are the rating-obsessed mass media that drives political strategy. What if a demonstration occurred without TV coverage? Would it still count as civic activism? Remember the days when TV loved rallies protesting the Vietnam war thanks to bizarre costumes, weird people and, with any luck, some carefully edited shots of bare-breasted female hippies? Anti-war activists quickly figured things out. A manual on how to generate free media coverage surely must exist.
When all is said and done, a reasonable case can be made for government and school policies, to curtail the political exploitation of children. At a minimum, those who drag junior to such events should be made aware of potential dangers–foul language, graphic images (aborted fetuses, dead bodies) and, increasingly, genuine violence. Conceivably, exposure to over-heated rhetoric might traumatize youngsters who cannot grasp the infinitesimal odds of them being killed in a school shooting. I personally would not take my grand-daughter to a campus forum involving Charles Murray or Heather MacDonald. Who knows what awaits innocent bystanders—tear gas? Being trampled? Seeing fist fights and clubbing’s? What will be learned at such raucous events? Something about the First Amendment?
The parallel are the ratings for movies (G to X) and video games that alert parents of content unsuitable for children of various ages. Going one step further, there should be tangible costs for parents and teachers who believe that having junior “speak out” on some injustice outshines more humdrum school work. (Some school have done this.) Moreover, many black and Hispanic students need all the classroom they can get without achieving their fifteen seconds of TV fame to advance some celebrity-endorsed trendy causes. As for teachers who cannot control their activism urges, just dock them a day’s pay unless they can demonstrate that attending the rally out-performed anything that could be accomplished in the classroom. Better yet, have the state withhold money from the school for these exercises in propaganda.
All in all, time to declare those under aged 18 (or perhaps 16) as non-combatants. This is a policy equivalent to not permitting children to smoke, see X-rate films or otherwise engage in “adult” activities. Perhaps we should assign social workers to monitor political rallies to ensure that youngsters are not at risk when they venture into activities demanding adult judgement.