After a long period of the world hearing about one mass shooting after another in the United States, followed by a quickly-expiring blip of talk of need for better gun control, the aftermath of February 14 school shooting at Parkland, Florida has been turning out little differently. The talk of the need for gun control hasn’t extinguished, mainly due to the mobilising effort led by the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who don’t want the conversation to taper off again without impact.
Across the US, hundreds of students walked out of school and marched towards the Capitol to protest gun violence, demanding that the leaders and representatives do something about the country’s lax gun laws that allow people to easily obtain guns and use them to slaughter others. In an era of deep political divides and polarisation, including on the issues of gun ownership and gun rights in the US, the survivor speak hasn’t gone down well with the political right wing who tend to support the US National Rifle Association (NRA) — and its extreme rhetoric and uncompromising stance against any form of gun control. The students’ speeches and their effort of organising protest rallies across many US cities almost immediately drew politicisation, dismissive taunts, conspiracy theories and attacks from several right wing media commentators and politicians questioning intentions and seeking to discredit such voices. The claims ranged from suggesting a Democrat agenda taking advantage of the students to dismissing them as mere “kids” and “teenagers” with underdeveloped mental faculties with no special claim to authority or expertise in the matter, their experience as survivors and witnesses of the massacre notwithstanding.
Bill O’Reilly, the disgraced former host of Fox News, claimed on his website that the grief of the survivors was being “used” by reporters to attack President Trump.
— Jack Kingston (@JackKingston) February 19, 2018
While O’Reilly and former congressman and conservative activist Jack Kingston expressed dramatic disbelief at the idea of the students protesting at their own volitions, others had a problem with teenage survivors laying claim to authority to speak on the matter. “When, pray tell, did these students do to earn their claim to expertise? They were present during a mass shooting and they have the right point of view, according to the Left,” wrote conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, in his column for the conservative outlet National Review, quoting that the emotional center of teenagers’ brains biologically outweighed its rational counterpart.
In the wake of Florida lawmakers rejecting a motion to ban assault rifles, another series of mocking tweets came from the Indian-American author and conservative commentator Dinesh D’ Souza, who commented on a picture showing students’ visible dismay at the outcome, “Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs”.
Adults 1, kids 0 https://t.co/24iqKtnTxy
— Dinesh D’Souza (@DineshDSouza) February 20, 2018
FBI dad and “Crisis actors”
Besides bots and trolls, Donald Trump Jr., who has been in India since Tuesday to promote the luxury real estate projects of the Trump Organisation, notoriously liked two tweets disseminating conspiracy theories about David Hogg, one of the students survivors prominently at the helm of the protests. One of these tweets linked to a story in Gateway Pundit, a far-right, pro-Trump website, that accused Hogg’s retired FBI agent father of using his son to peddle “anti-Trump rhetoric and anti-gun legislation,” and essentially claimed that the 17-year-old was being manipulated by the FBI.
DonaldJTrumpJr liked this tweet: https://t.co/7ubzRmP6kh
— Trump Alert (@TrumpsAlert) February 20, 2018
This wasn’t the extent of it, however, as another deep-rooted right wing conspiracy theory reared its head, going as far as to suggest that the whole incident was a sham and that the protesting students were paid actors whose talking point had been manufactured by the Left. While these baseless speculation are bereft of connections to fact, they reportedly spread quickly within conservative circles on social media in the known tradition of fake news.
While the young #NeverAgain movement spearheaded by the survivors for the first time in the history of recent mass shootings cannot and does not expect to usher in big changes quickly, it is hardly surprising that many conservatives are miffed. The protesters are nevertheless attracting attention to the gun violence issues and having an impact. Recently, a number of small and big companies, including various car rental businesses, a bank, an insurance company, Delta Airlines, United Airlines and Symantec have given in to social pressure and cancelled their benefit partnerships with the NRA. In a small sign of movement on the issue, Florida governor Rick Scott has announced plans to raise the minimum age of gun purchase to 21 (currently 18), effecting a fall in the shares of firearms makers, the Financial Times reported. President Trump, for his part, declared his intent to tighten the necessary background checks for gun sales and directed the US Justice Department to move to ban devices like the rapid-fire bump stocks used in last year’s Las Vegas massacre.