The Kids Aren’t All Right, They’re Extraordinary. We’re Not.

Our failures robbed them of the youth to which they were entitled.

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Will we be grown-ups? Will we get something done?

Like you, I watched and read about the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, with that same mixture of dread, despair, and shameful sense of inevitability. I’ve written extensively about guns and their effect on us before. But there was a small synapse in the back of my brain that told me that maybe this time was different. It just felt different. It felt…hopeful? All because of the extraordinary group of kids that America has been getting to know and who, on March 24, will lead a march of an estimated 500,000 others who are also refusing to have their voices muted.

Who, with a conscience, couldn’t be moved and inspired by the survivors of Parkland? Their insistence at having a presence at the table as the state of Florida and even certain parts of America herself began to look forward and search for ways to prevent future shootings was exactly what was needed. Led by the charismatic Emma Gonzalez, her classmates, and the parents of the victims, they led a force directly into the halls of Florida’s capitol, and then to Washington, DC itself. They refuse to be targets of the increasingly radicalized National Rifle Association. They refuse to be marginalized. They refuse to accept that some Americans’ narrow interpretations of the Second Amendment are more important than their own lives and safety. Millions of Americans raised, and are raising, their voices in solidarity with these passionate young people.

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Thank God for these kids and thank God for their families; I’m grateful for their voices, their resilience, their determination. It is, however, important to remember that they’re still — well, kids. Are they intellectually and emotionally ready to take part in, to lead, this national conversation? You bet they are. But what a shame that they must. They should be thinking about the prom, getting caught smoking, wondering what to wear, applying to college, tracking who likes them and who doesn’t, eating pizza, performing in plays, taking dance class, updating their apps. They should be making mistakes and having first loves and stressing about grades and eating terrible food. Instead, they are leading a leaderless nation.

Please understand: I’m in no way diminishing their extraordinary and obvious sacrifices, their contributions to this ongoing national conversation. What I am doing is indicting my generation, and those who came before me, for our collective failure to protect this new generation — and how those failures have robbed them of the youth to which they were entitled. Everyone owns a piece of that failure: ammosexuals, responsible gun owners, politicians, ineffectual liberals, manufacturers, distributors; all of us. And especially those of us who feel each shooting with a new sense of dread, shame and grief before we succumb yet again to numbness and move on. I understand that we all have lives to pull us away from these debates, from taking more comprehensive action; we all have families and jobs and stresses and problems of our own that eclipse these shootings. These kids, they don’t get that luxury. We took that away from them. Their stresses are now a part of this story: their families are shattered; their dreams are deferred. All because too many of us didn’t do enough.

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What’s the answer? I don’t know, nor do many people much smarter than I am. I do suspect there’s no one answer but a series of them: yes, better regulation of gun owners; yes, more comprehensive and required background checks; yes, better mental health provisions — and treatment; yes, banning and removal of assault-style weapons; yes, better preparation in schools and public places. No to arming teachers: there is nothing worse than that infantile idea.

These young people, hours and days and weeks after suffering a tragedy unimaginable to the rest of us, have demonstrated more courage, determination and wherewithal than the generations of their parents and grandparents. We must do better because the kids — the kids are not all right. They’re remarkable, and thank God for them. We should hope for half their motivation, and, as we stagger through shooting after shooting after shooting after shooting, don’t we owe them exactly that? To be the grown-ups? Are we going to join our kids? Are we going to get some things done?