David Hogg began his speech at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C., on Saturday by accusing Marco Rubio, Florida's Republican senator, of exchanging students' lives for donations from the National Rifle Association. Dividing the $3 million or so that Rubio has received from the NRA over the years by the number of primary and secondary students in Florida, Hogg figured that the senator had charged $1.05 for each of the 14 teenagers killed in the February 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where Hogg is a senior.
Hogg and the other young activists who attended demonstrations across the country on Saturday to demand legislation aimed at preventing school shootings may have energized the debate about gun control, but they certainly have not elevated it. Taking their cues from the grownups they say have failed them, Hogg and his compatriots assume their opponents are motivated by greed, cowardice and crass political considerations -- anything but honest disagreement.
"School safety is not a political issue," the March for Our Lives website insists. "There cannot be two sides to doing everything in our power to ensure the lives and futures of children who are at risk of dying when they should be learning, playing, and growing."
There cannot be two sides. That sort of logic practically demands contempt for anyone who does not share your policy preferences, as illustrated by Hogg's comments about legislators who do not vote the way he thinks they should.
"They're pathetic f---ers that want to keep killing our children," Hogg said in an interview with The Outline. "They could have blood from children spattered all over their faces, and they wouldn't take action, because they all still see those dollar signs."
Hogg is only 17, but comments from older, supposedly wiser advocates of gun control reflect a similar attitude. "If you're a political leader doing nothing about this slaughter," Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., tweeted after the Parkland attack, "you're an accomplice."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who is five times as old as David Hogg, shares his assumptions about people who disagree with her, although she expresses them in more temperate terms. "The students protesting inaction on gun safety," she tweeted on March 14, "have the courage to stand up to the NRA and lawmakers would do well to follow their example."
If fear of the NRA is the only conceivable reason why people would fail to support the legislation favored by Hogg, Murphy and Feinstein, there is no point in debating whether, say, an "assault weapon" ban, a limit on the capacity of magazines or background checks for every gun transfer can reasonably be expected to have a meaningful impact on the frequency or lethality of mass shootings. The only sensible course is to shame or scare people into doing what everyone knows is the right thing -- whatever that happens to be at any given moment.
"Our lives are more important than your guns," said a sign held by a teenager at the D.C. rally. Similar slogans, presumably written by adults, could be seen on signs held by preschoolers. The implicit message -- that Americans must surrender their firearms and their Second Amendment rights in the name of protecting children -- was not exactly designed to provoke a fruitful dialogue. But that approach makes sense if you think all the relevant issues have already been settled.
Lara Vance, a middle-aged Kentucky woman who was interviewed at the D.C. rally, said she was "rather shocked that this is even an issue." After all, "This is something that can be solved. It doesn't take a lot of thought. We know what the problems are, and we need Congress to get their act together and get this problem solved."
I disagree with pretty much every part of that, but I have no doubt that Vance sincerely believes it. I wish she would extend me the same courtesy.