Parkland Student Advocates Strong Support for 2nd Amendment
PARKLAND, FLORIDA -- On the afternoon of February 14, 2018, Kyle Kashuv found himself in the midst of a waking nightmare, huddled in a classroom closet for two harrowing hours, attempting to console and reassure terrified fellow students. An apparent fire drill had abruptly turned into a bloodbath after a gunman calculatingly lured potential victims into the halls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by pulling the fire alarm -- a ghoulish maneuver designed to maximize the bodycount. Teachers began following protocol by locking classroom doors after an active shooter alert was announced over the campus intercom system. Kashuv ended up piling into one room only after an instructor made a judgment call to unlock her door to accommodate a group of panicked students. The closet felt "like the safest place to be," he remembers. "I was trying to calm people down who were crying hysterically, letting everyone know that everything would be alright." Kids frantically checked their phones and social media feeds for emerging information as they remained holed up, waiting for a SWAT team's liberation. It finally came around 4:30pm. They had survived; seventeen others had not.This southeastern Florida community is still reeling. On a warm Sunday afternoon, people are milling around a makeshift memorial that lines the fence outside of the school. It's filled with layer after layer of placards, flowers and candles. Passers-by slow down as they drive past the scene of this heinous crime; some pull off the road and simply stare. In a nearby park, Kashuv, a 16-year-old junior, is matter-of-factly relaying his personal story from that horrible day, probably for the umpteenth time. He'd reached out to me through Twitter, expressing a willingness to talk about his experiences and the state of public debate over what happened inside his school a few weeks ago. With his parents' permission, I agreed to meet him. He has a lot to say but can't help but wonder aloud if many in the mainstream media have any interest in listening. Some of his schoolmates have gained prominence as television mainstays in the aftermath of the killings, their opinions validated with verified social media statuses, amassing millions of followers in the process. Kashuv is just as much a Parkland survivor as now-familiar names like David Hogg and Cameron Kasky, yet his views have only garnered limited attention.I ask him why he thinks that's the case. "I don't know," he says, hesitantly. "Maybe because I don't use inflammatory language. I speak calmly and logically without much emotion. I don't necessarily make the very best headline." He's politely referring to some of his more "famous" peers' propensity to launch provocative and partisan attacks, such as repeated assertions that people who disagree with their political or policy preferences "don't care" about dead children, or have 'blood on their hands.' But Kashuv knows that the disparate treatment he's lived isn't merely attributable to stylistic differences; he's convinced that the substance of his views is what has diminished his appeal to many activists and journalists.
"I'm a very strong Second Amendment supporter and I will continue to be throughout this entire campaign." he tells me. "As of right now, my main goal is to meet with legislators and represent to them that there are big Second Amendment supporters in our community. Through this entire thing, my number one concern has been making sure that the rights of innocent Americans aren't infringed upon." He says that when he visited the state capitol to talk to lawmakers shortly after the tragedy, he consistently asked for guarantees that the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun owners wouldn't be attacked or abridged. He's waded into this debate "kind of reluctantly," he admits, observing that at some point he realized that he was one of the few conservatives in his school who were speaking up in public. "It's not even by my choosing, it's just come to that," he remarks. "I feel somewhat obligated to do this because the other half of America needs to be heard. I'm doing this because I have to."
Kashuv counts himself as a believer in the 'Never Again' cause, but feels ostracized and ignored by those -- including students and the adults supporting them -- who disagree with his conservative politics. "It's quite saddening because I support this Never Again movement in some aspects. Everything that isn't for gun control, I fully support. But a lot of people in the movement, they view it as 'you're with us or you're against us.' There's no middle ground. So either you support them on all of their policy ideas, or you're an enemy. That's sad because I really do love this movement, and I want it to do a lot of good work. But simply because I have a different opinion on what needs to be done [on guns], I'm not represented as a leading member."
He wasn't invited to participate in CNN's raucous and emotional town hall meeting in the wake of the shooting, watching it instead on television along with the general public (he says some of the pro-gun control students who traveled with him in Tallahassee were flown back for the event). He didn't like what he saw. "The entire CNN town hall was very ineffective. It worsened the divide," he laments. "It was so counter productive because Republicans would answer back, and they weren't really able to voice logical concerns and [talk about] what they wanted to do because they were just booed. It was simply counterproductive. That's the only word for it." Conservative Florida Senator Marco Rubio attended the forum, throughout which he was showered with jeers and heckles. His job approval rating has taken a hit as a result, according to a recent poll. Kashuv -- who hopes to meet with Rubio in the near future to discuss the Senator's newly-unveiled policy proposals -- thinks that's an unjust outcome. "I respect [Rubio for showing up] a lot because he didn't have to go. He knew there was going to be so much backlash, but he still went." Kashuv's opinion of another public official onstage that night is decidedly less generous: "What really angered me was Sheriff Scott Israel. He sat there and he was practically virtue signaling, and this was all while he knew that his department hadn't acted properly."
The right-leaning student appears uncomfortable directly criticizing his headline-grabbing schoolmates, seemingly worried about fueling a pitched "Right vs Left" battle. But their actions have increasingly grated on him, and Kashuv is starting to push back more forcefully. He was particularly bothered by Hogg's boast on Bill Maher's HBO program that he'd hung up on the White House during a call designed to arrange a conversation with the president about potential solutions. "Simply hanging up, whether it was the president or his assistant -- that's terrible. And then to brag about it on national television? It's extremely counterintuitive to actual change. You get a call from the president's office, and instead of talking, or reaching a middle ground, or seeing what can be done, you hang up on them? I think that's just extremely immature." Visibly agitated, Kashuv isn't finished. "[Some of their statements and actions] are divisive and pushing people further away from reaching a middle ground. It's terrible and it's hypocritical -- someone saying they want to make change, then they're pushing away some of the people who would help make that change."Read More...