Column: The Next Generation Is About to Take Over, Thank Goodness

For the Valley News
Tuesday, March 06, 2018


Those of us who were kids in the 1930s were often regaled with the grisly details of the so-called Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, in which gunmen dressed as cops, armed with Thompson submachine guns, and probably under the orders of Al Capone, slaughtered seven members of a rival gang in a Chicago garage.

Four years later, unnerved by the violence and corruption spawned by Prohibition, the United States repealed the constitutional amendment that had created it. A year after that, 1934, the National Firearms Act severely restricted the possession or transfer of machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, silencers, and other popular tools of criminal activity.

Eighty-nine Valentine’s Days later, a disgruntled and disturbed 19-year-old carrying a modern fast-firing “assault-style” weapon with high-capacity magazines walked into a Florida high school guarded by an armed “resource officer,” killed 17 people, and wounded a dozen more.

While the 1929 massacre managed to provoke the only constitutional amendment ever to repeal another, this far more deadly one has managed only to provoke from Congress a great Heavenward wafting of thoughts and prayers for the dead, wounded and aggrieved. It’s impossible (for me, at least) to watch the soberly hooded eyes and the soft tones of sympathy that disguise the thought going on behind those faces: How little can we do to make it appear that we’re doing all we can to stop these things from happening?

Any subsequent debates of the subject have been tangled in suppositions, legalisms, grandstanding and temporizing. Listening to them is like trying to run in waist-deep mud.

The fact is that it’s supposed to. Because in the end, nothing gets done. Yet something has to; our present condition is untenable

It seemed highly likely that after the slaughter of the innocents at Sandy Hook, something substantive might be accomplished at the federal level. But the mourning parents had their say, the politicians expressed their heartfelt condolences, the usual bickering about probable causes and practical solutions choked everything else off, and we went on with our lives. Many of us, though, have long wondered if there would be a tipping point — the day members of Congress feared their constituents’ fury more than the National Rifle Association’s — and if it came, when would it be, and what it might take to make it happen.

While recognizing that when you’re looking anxiously for something, it’s easy to convince yourself you see it, I have a feeling this recent Valentine’s Day massacre could be it. Because this time the victims weren’t primary-school kids, but students at a reportedly affluent high school — kids who, if they survived, were able to express articulate outrage at a cultural climate long fostered by legislative pusillanimity.

Some pointed out that the coming election would be their first chance to vote, and they intended to use it.

The shock troops of legislative inaction are the social media trolls, who question the credentials of the aggrieved and injured. The students who spoke for on-camera interviews, for example, have been called paid actors and pooh-poohed as kids “too young to understand the big picture.”

Once the trolls have poisoned the well, it becomes easier for unwilling legislators to lie low and wait out the storm.

We old progs, however, are hugging ourselves in anxious anticipation. “Anxious” because we hope the kids can keep their cause focused and together. In any case, they’re the next generation to run this nation. They all have friends in the LGBTQ community, consider many religious social positions absurd, possess mass communication skills that bestride ours like a colossus and, having been shot at in close quarters by a cold-blooded killer who slaughtered their friends, are a little hard to scare.

One woman on Facebook philosophically observed that “I suppose we ought to let them (take over).” We don’t have to let them; they’re going to anyway, and soon, I hope.

I loved that kid who, face to face with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on live TV, asked the senator whether he’d continue to accept the NRA’s millions. Having had a target on his back, he was pinning another to the senator’s: You’re supposed to keep us safe. How are you doing that?

Many critics have sarcastically questioned the mental capacity of kids who’ve been eating dishwasher soap pods, as if it were an epidemic. One, incredibly, asked what rational thought might be expected of kids who wore shorts in midwinter. He’d obviously never met a New England mail carrier.

Americans of recent generations who seem otherwise perfectly reasonable doubt whether the young people coming along so rapidly have the capacity to handle the complexities of modern political life. Our generations have spent the last 65 years running this experiment into the ditch; and now, sitting among the wreckage and refusing, like toddlers, to play well together, we wonder if the ones coming along can do as well.

I suspect they can, and only hope to live long enough to see it.

Willem Lange can be reached at willem.lange@comcast.net.