Gun debate madness

Last Saturday, young people all over the country poured onto the streets to say, “Enough!” That included kids in Hancock County, who bussed down to Boston or turned out closer to home for marches, gatherings and conversation. They are stepping up to take on the responsibility that our leaders have shirked. They have initiated a meaningful dialogue about gun safety, and they have made it clear that they will march until they get results.

Sometimes they are referred to as children, but the stunningly articulate statements coming from these young people and the leadership roles they have taken on suggest that “children” does not really describe them.

Despite what they have been through, they are not without their detractors. Some dared to call them paid “crisis actors,” out to make a buck and tug at our heartstrings, proving there is no mind too small when it comes to politics. Some have called it ironic that they are “exercising one constitutional right to seek infringement of another,” patronizingly claiming that this is “an irony I am sure is lost on them.”

No, it is not lost on them. They are simply thinking more deeply than those who say gun ownership should be completely without limits. The youth on the march recognize that their First Amendment right to free speech is not unlimited, and have taken to the streets to petition their government civilly, thoughtfully and nonviolently. They recognize that their right to free speech has certain limits.

As for the Second Amendment, they are petitioning for gun safety, not gun seizure, through legislation that would apply reasonable limits on gun ownership, limits with which the majority of the population agrees. They are not seeking to have firearms taken away.

A writer who called a student’s op ed a “carefully crafted political hit piece” asked: “Do you really believe … that there wasn’t any coaching going on when that opinion piece was written?” We might well ask if anyone really believes that there isn’t any coaching going on when members of Congress, after receiving millions of dollars from the National Rifle Association, stand up and resist even the most basic and widely supported gun safety legislation, such as background checks.

Underestimate these young people at your peril. Though they certainly deserve and benefit from the support of many adults who have joined forces with them, they have enormous capacity of their own. Some of them will be old enough to vote by November, and many more by 2020. They will be analyzed, surveyed and focus-grouped to a fare thee well, but they will be a force to be reckoned with.

They will bring a major new dynamic to U.S. elections at every level. Anyone who says they “know who appropriated this movement” or “who snatched the reins from these kids” demeans the intelligence and the spirit of the “kids” who have been pressed into service to make sure they and their friends get through a school day alive.

Schools should be “hardened targets?” Has it really come to this? That it is the responsibility of the rest of us to make our schools into fortresses so that no soul who cares to own a military assault rifle should be denied? Guns in schools have long been forbidden, but now there are proposals that teachers carry guns to defend their students’ lives.

Teachers are the collateral damage in this bizarre debate about guns in school. Having dedicated their lives to the welfare and the futures of the nation’s children, they are now being asked to step up and defend them, physically when necessary, from being shot. This is not what they signed up for. It is asking too much.

What about the state capitol? You can’t carry guns there either, and metal detectors at the entrances insure that you don’t. Why not? If having the adults armed works for schools, then open the Maine State House to guns and let legislators carry, because “good guys with guns” are the best defense against “bad guys with guns.”

Teachers are shaken by trying to lead young children through safety drills that involve running for their lives or hiding in closets. The exercise is not unlike sitting in an airplane and hearing: “In the unlikely event of a water landing … .” Rocks and fire extinguishers notwithstanding, the survival rate of a child against a gun is very, very low. Just like touching down in a 747 in the Atlantic Ocean.

This is madness. There is a center to this debate. Americans should be free to own guns to hunt, for sport shooting or for personal protection. That freedom does not extend to certain criminals, drug offenders, domestic abusers and others that have had their rights revoked by law. It should not extend to military-style assault weapons. Enough.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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