The protesters at the March For Our Lives – both on the stage and in the crowd – were angry. And they have every right to be. The Parkland shooting that left 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month was just the latest in a string of high profile mass shootings that have captured media attention in recent years. Rarely mentioned in the media but discussed at the rally are the frequent shootings that occur across the country every day.
In one emotional story after another, teenagers still in high school recounted how gun violence has touched them. Two students, one from Chicago and one from Los Angeles, each spoke about losing their brothers to gun violence. Several students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas told the crowd what they experienced that fateful day. Some shouted. Some cried.
Emma Gonzalez, one of the best known students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas, gave a very moving speech in which she listed the names of the shooting victims, saying each one will never see their friends again before falling silent. She stared off into the crowd as tears streamed down her face for what seemed like an eternity. The crowd shouted support for her. Someone else on stage got up to check on her. But she just stared into the crowd barely holding back more tears – until an alarm went off on her phone and she announced that 6 minutes and 20 seconds had passed, the same length of time during which the Parkland shooter went on his rampage.
It was incredibly powerful. You could feel the emotion.
But emotion is not enough. Emotion will not prevent any shooting or keep anyone safe. Emotion, instead, will cloud the mind.
The student from Chicago did not mention that his city already has tighter gun control laws than anyone but the most extreme zealots are calling for nationally. Emotion demands we lash out. Reason would suggest if strict gun control in Chicago is still met with extreme levels of gun violence, maybe gun control is not the solution.
The student from Los Angeles called for removing police officers from schools because she believes they are all racists. Four days ago, one of those school resource officers she insulted saved an unknown number of lives in Maryland when he intervened to end a school shooting. Emotion tells us to look for simple answers and people to blame. Reason proves that no person or system is perfect, but most police officers are noble and brave individuals who protect the rest of us.
In the speeches, in the prepared videos, and in the crowd, were one accusation after another that the NRA has bought Republicans and both organizations are responsible for innocent deaths. Emotion demands an enemy we know and understand to blame for tragedy. Reason tells us people are responsible for their own actions and calling half the country accessories to murder does not advance an agenda in a democracy.
Emotion can also be a substitute for learning. There were many people at the march, and in almost every discussion of gun control, who clearly do not know what they are talking about. We make jokes about politicians and pundits who believe there are such things as “fully semi auto” weapons or “rapid fire magazine clips,” but under their ignorance is a basic truth. The emotion they feel, the righteous indignation at real and incontrovertible tragedies, has short-circuited their reason. They feel angry and feel that should be enough.
There are solutions to gun violence, although we will also have to learn to accept that human nature is flawed and a certain level of violence is inevitable. But those solutions will not come from our emotions. Until you can put your emotions aside and attack the problem with your reason, you are not a part of the solution. You’re just an angry kid yelling in a crowd.