PORT: Schools shouldn’t have excused students for anti-gun protests
This past week, the school walk out protests, organized across the nation by left-wing groups, were executed with a degree of maturity I frankly didn’t expect.
Good work, kids. I’m sincerely glad you took the time to have your say, even though you’re mostly wrong.
The kids promoted the idea that school shootings and gun violence in America are some sort of an epidemic.
In reality, gun violence has been at or near generational lows for years now according to FBI data, and about 10 times more kids die walking or riding their bikes to school in a given year than from shootings at school (which have declined in both incidence and body counts over the past 25 years, contrary to the impression you might have gotten from sensational media coverage).
“Over the past quarter-century, on average about 10 students are slain in school shootings annually,” James Alan Fox, the Lipman Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern University, wrote for USA Today recently. “Compare the school fatality rate with the more than 100 school-age children accidentally killed each year riding their bikes or walking to school.”
If we really want to save the lives of children, where are the walk out protests in favor of mandatory bike helmet laws?
Still, one needn’t be correct to exercise the rights guaranteed us by the First Amendment.
Our public schools must, however, treat all speech equally.
Many schools in our part of the world excused students so they could participate in the demonstrations. That was the wrong decision, not least because it sets a precedent for future episodes of student activism.
One would hope that schools making an allowance for anti-gun rights demonstrations organized by left wing groups would show a similar deference and willingness to facilitate demonstrations against, say, abortion.
Could a pro-life organization hoping to rally students in favor of abortion restrictions expect the same level of cooperation anti-gun demonstrators got from school administrators?
Would students be allowed to disrupt class, and the school day, with no repercussions to speak out in favor of tax cuts?
Perhaps some right-of-center groups should test those questions, because school officials have now obligated themselves to a certain approach to student activism.
An important free speech concept is the idea that all speech should be treated equally. Public officials cannot pick and choose which sort of speech to facilitate, and which to inhibit, based on the content of that speech.
If anti-gun protesters get excused from class to demonstrate, so should protesters for any other cause. Including those school officials might find distasteful.
A better approach would have been for schools to apply their usual policies on absences. If schools allow parents to excuse their students for a protest, so be it. If the protesters are guilty of unexcused absences, then the usual penalties should apply.
After all, what good is an act of civil disobedience if there is no disobedience?
Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort
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