‘It’s our job to lead, not theirs’: Conservative pundits don’t want Parkland survivors speaking out

Host Bill O'Reilly appears on "The O'Reilly Factor" on The FOX News Channel at FOX Studios on March 17, 2015 in New York City. CREDIT: Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images

In the aftermath of tragedy, who gets to speak? According to Bill O’Reilly, it’s not the victims.

“The big question is: should the media be promoting opinions by teenagers who are in an emotional state and facing extreme peer pressure in some cases?” the former Fox News host tweeted Tuesday, following a mass shooting last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Seventeen people were killed and at least 14 others injured in the shooting, which was carried out by a single gunman carrying an AR-15 style rifle. Since then, a number of survivors have taken action, speaking to national media outlets and calling for increased gun control legislation. They’ve also planned a march — called the March For Our Lives — focused on school safety and gun violence prevention, scheduled for next month.

The students’ impassioned pleas and messages to lawmakers have gone viral time and time again in the days since the shooting.

O’Reilly is one of several right-wing figures attempting to silence those who have chosen to speak out. David Marcus, a correspondent for The Federalist, made a similar argument Monday, one that hinged on the belief that lawmakers will likely do nothing to prevent another tragedy like the one in Parkland. By letting young people push for change, we’re only damaging them further, he claimed.

“Leave the kids alone. It’s our job to lead, not theirs,” he wrote. “It’s our job to tell them the truth, not lie to them about a power to make change that they do not have.”

Marcus argued that an upcoming CNN town hall with a group of Marjory Stoneman Douglas survivors might be a negative way for them to deal with the tragedy.

“Have they consulted with mental health experts about whether this [town hall] is a positive way for young survivors to grapple with their grief?” he wrote. “Have they taken into account the possibility that they are setting these kids up for a massive and devastating fall when the change they all know in their hearts they are about to create fails to occur?”

New York Times columnist David Brooks took those arguments a step further in a column published Monday.

“So if you want to stop school shootings it’s not enough just to vent and march,” Brooks wrote. “It’s necessary to let people from Red America lead the way, and to show respect to gun owners at all points.”

What Brooks forgets is that “gun owners” — or, more accurately, the National Rifle Association (NRA), the political juggernaut protecting the gun industry — have been leading the way. They’ve been lining the pockets of lawmakers around the country for decades, dictating the gun debate with their dollars.

Despite feigned concern for the victims of the Parkland shooting, many conservative outlets have been more than happy to utilize survivors for their own agendas when it suits them. On Tuesday, Fox News, O’Reilly’s former employer, published an interview with one of the survivors of the shooting, 18-year-old Brandon Minoff. Minoff offered a different take than that of his fellow students, suggesting that the “media is politicizing this tragedy.”

“It seems that gun control laws is the major topic of conversation rather than focusing on the bigger issue of 17 innocent lives being taken at the hands of another human,” he said. “[A]ll day Thursday, CNN was interviewing gun experts and specialists to brainwash the audience that gun control is a necessity…. They even have an army of my classmates trying to persuade other students that guns are unnecessary and should be illegal.”

Teens like the ones whose voices have been elevated in the wake of the Parkland shooting are important to discussions on gun violence and safety. And they’re far from a monolith, as Minoff’s interview makes clear. But talking about their emotional states and policing their grief and subsequent activism, cherry-picking those soundbites that fit the pro-gun agenda most, is just another way the gun lobby — and the NRA specifically — are attempting to re-frame the debate and avoid talking about child deaths.