By FROMA HARROP
America desperately needed a new kind of citizen leader to force political change. She found it in the students, parents and teachers scarred by the massacre at a Parkland, Florida, high school. Watch how effective they’ve been at making the case for tighter gun laws. Watch how they’ve alarmed politicians under NRA control.
Their power stems from their middle-class, tax-paying decorum. Many of these adults no doubt voted for Donald Trump, Gov. Rick Scott and/or Sen. Marco Rubio — all of whom oppose a broad ban on military-style weapons for civilians. These grieving parents have touched Middle America in a highly personal way.
They are not radicals hurling obscenities. And, something Republican strategists surely noticed, they are mostly white.
The fathers visited the president wearing suits and ties, American flags on their lapels. Their complaint was simple and stripped of ideology: The availability of an AR-15 rifle let a troubled teen murder their child and 16 other innocents in a matter of minutes.
Without a trace of disrespect or servility, they talked directly to Trump. “Never ever will I see my kid,” Andrew Pollack said. “I want it to sink in. It’s eternity. My beautiful daughter, I’m never going to see again.”
At CNN’s town hall discussion, Fred Guttenberg, who lost his 14-year-old girl, said to Rubio, “I want to like you.” He then pressed forward: “Look at me and tell me guns were the factor in the hunting of our kids in this school this week … and you will work with us to do something about guns.”
The National Rifle Association routinely cites the Second Amendment’s support for a “well regulated Militia.” But history teacher Diane Wolk-Rogers smartly challenged NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch: “Explain to me how an 18-year-old with a military rifle is well regulated.”
Military leaders have long supported keeping weapons of war out of civilian hands. One of them, retired Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, angrily wrote in the New York Post, “The demagogues who grow wealthy by convincing responsible gun owners that some shadowy government agency can’t wait to seize their deer rifles will have a great deal to answer for on Judgment Day.”
Blaming the scourge of school shootings on mental illness is a dodge to avoid “sensible” control. Who would screen all the depressed teenagers and put them on a no-buy list?
Scientists looked hard for abnormalities in the brain of Stephen Paddock, who killed 58 innocents from a hotel window in Las Vegas and then himself. They found nothing. Paddock was 64.
The Parkland teens have taught big media a lesson on dealing with right-wing trolls. The prominent student journalist David Hogg was predictably targeted by lies about his being an actor rather than a student. The Washington Post called him a “victim of an online conspiracy.”
But Hogg is nobody’s victim. He responded with a verbal shrug. He said his generation will “outlive the NRA.” And he quickly dispatched the NRA’s Loesch: “Everything she’s saying seems like spectacle.” (Can I be David Hogg when I grow up?)
There’s really little point in seeking middle ground on gun control, because the great American majority is already there. Surveys of gun owners and non-gun owners, Republicans and Democrats, show broad support for stricter gun laws.
Middle America is increasingly done with the NRA. Such household names as MetLife, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines and virtually every major car rental company responded to the Parkland outrage by ending their special deals for NRA members.
America’s models of rectitude are clearly scaring the daylights out of politicians who’ve been blithely ignoring the sensible middle. May they lead the fight against this barbarity and others.