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Editorial: The future is not theirs

More than a month following the Parkland shooting, students are still tirelessly taking on the behemoth of gun control policies. Changing laws is only one battle. Earning respect for their involvement in the debate is another beast entirely, and it’s needless.

When it comes to shaping our country’s future, older adults make up a majority of the voices that we listen to. The Congressional Research Service reports that the average ages of the 114th Congress were 57 and 61 years old, for House representatives and senators respectively. These averages have remained just as high in the past few years, paving the way for serious disconnect between the wishes of older Americans and the needs of young Americans.

Adults well beyond their 50s and 60s should share only a part of shaping the future, despite what average ages of governmental seats may suggest. While they are more than welcome to advocate for their values and right the wrongs that they’ve seen in their lifetimes, the future is not theirs.

Historically, minors have been a part of the political scene. Teenagers in decades past have rallied for civil and women’s rights, and spoken out against war involvement, among other issues. Developments in the gun control scene are not new, but it does feel different this time around. The persistence of the Parkland shooting survivors, and all their allies across the nation, is amplified by their clever use of social media. It would be a significant challenge to find somewhere online where their speeches, interviews and event campaigns aren’t making the front page. The #NeverAgain movement began in the days following the Parkland shooting. Millions gathered nationwide for the March for Our Lives, rallying for increased gun control. An overwhelming majority of the voices heard at these rallies were those of children — from middle school to high school students only a few years from entering the voting booths.

The American public’s views on gun control are only complicated by the insistence that minors are somehow unqualified to be speaking about these issues. Some protest that minors aren’t yet fully developed cognitively, and therefore cannot make big decisions. But when these children are the ones in the impact zone caused by hesitant politicians, they have every right to join adults at the table. Representatives are appointed to advocate for their constituents’ concerns. There is no reason to disallow teenagers from voicing their concerns just because of an arbitrary legal age. Their message will be the same when they hit their 18th birthdays – putting off when we’ll listen to these demands for change only endangers more children and more classrooms in the meantime.

Even elementary school children are cognizant of the problems facing their country. Schools are facing increased lockdown practices, as well as pressure from concerned parents and staff over how we should be allowing younger Americans to participate in demonstrations. Some schools have decided to discipline students for involving themselves in certain protest activities. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) posted information specifically for students, explaining that they are liable for punishment from school boards if they leave class to protest. But the ACLU made an important distinction: “…what they can’t do is discipline you more harshly because of the political nature of or the message behind your action.” So whether or not adults want to listen to minors, they can and will be leaving classrooms, assembling on weekends and demanding policy change, even at the risk of punishment.

Minors are engaging in exhaustive activism work because they refuse to let their classmates’ deaths be just another statistic in a problem that older Americans wish to gloss over. Their age isn’t relevant in any counter-arguments. They are overwhelmingly the ones on the frontlines; it’s time we let them decide how their futures will look, before they’re robbed of them.

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