The Highlighter

Protest Perspective

Conner Culhane, Contributor

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On Tuesday, February 27th students from high schools across the city gathered in the Square in Old Town to protest. This protest was the beginning of a series of student demonstrations across the nation regarding gun control in the wake of the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that left seventeen teachers and students dead.

A flyer that circulated social media in the days leading up to the protest stated the objectives that the organizers wished to achieve with this demonstration:

“Students deserve to be safe at school and it is time to show our representatives that gun laws need to be stricter and more effective. It’s common sense. We are tired of being afraid. We are not willing to wait. We are demanding change.”

As the clock struck noon students began walking or driving towards Old Town sporting protest signs and chanting in unison. The chants ranged from “Hey, hey, ho, ho, NRA has got to go” to “Protect our kids, not our guns.” Signs bore a variety of messages, many of which were overtly partisan “The Blood Is On Your Tiny Hands” and “Tweets Don’t Stop Bullets,” both of which were undoubtedly direct attacks at President Trump. Other signs read “#MENEXT?” a hashtag that has circulated the web following the most recent school shooting.

Students in Fort Collins however are not a monolith and the policy prescriptions proposed by those who organized and participated in the main protest are not representative of the views of the entire demographic. This was made apparent by several dozen counter protestors. Within this group of counter protesters there was variance as well. Many opted to drive in circles around the protest in large trucks sporting American, confederate, and Don’t Tread on Me” flags while others attempted to engage in discussion with those participating in the main protest.

I was among the group who attempted to engage in discussion with the protesters. My attempts were met with dirty looks, glares, louder chanting and the occasional obscenity, usually in reference to President Trump. Productive discussion was a rarity and the winks, nods and handshakes from those who agreed with me in the crowd were even rarer.

When discussion did occur, I failed to hear a legitimate policy proposal that would address the issue at hand. Regardless of this, many of the protesters were very respectful and almost made me think that the large police presence, although certainly understandable, may have been excessive.

The only legitimate issue I witnessed involving myself and others who were there to counter protest was when one of the volunteers, feeling emboldened by her flashy orange vest, demanded that we go to the other side of the street citing the permit obtained for the event as justification for the expulsion of people who she deemed to be “pro-gun.”

Though this minor incident was resolved quickly with the help of police officers it does reveal an element of the culture that silences opposition on both sides of debates and prevents honest and meaningful discussion from occurring. Whether or not she believed it was correct to remove counter protesters, the issue is that she was told to do so and that she chose to try to do just that.

Seeing as the protest went over without incident and everyone stayed safe, the question then becomes, did the protest accomplish what it set out to do?

Jacob, a student from Fossil Ridge High School, expressed skepticism regarding the effectiveness of the protest in the attainment of those goals. When asked about his thoughts regarding the protest he said, “I thought it was interesting to see what people thought and what people were saying on their signs, but what I thought was the most interesting is that both sides were almost protesting the same thing.”

This was a sentiment I found widely expressed as the one thing we can all agree on is that we have to stop these mass killings, the question however is how, and at what cost?

On Saturday March 24th, almost a month after the march in Old Town Fort Collins, people from across the nation organized by some students of Stoneman-Douglas high school, as well as other gun control-oriented organizations, marched on Capitol Hill and cities across the nation under the title “March for our Lives.”

The march on Washington featured speeches by student witnesses of the shooting in Parkland as well as other notable young speakers. Their message was clear, David Hogg, a Parkland student called upon first time voters to get out and vote in the 2018 midterms for politicians who “say that your voice doesn’t matter because the NRA owns them.”

I sympathize with David Hogg and his fellow students for the tragedy that they endured when an act of pure evil was brought upon their school. However, I do feel it is necessary to call balls and strikes with regard to his take on what should be done with guns in this country.

David Hogg is entitled to his opinion, likewise those who disagree with him are entitled to call him out on his points of view when they believe he is wrong and for either side to attribute poor intentions to the other is counterproductive and contributes to the degeneration of the public discourse rather than the solution of the problem at hand.

This being said, for the Parkland students to claim that politicians, particularly Marco Rubio, the Senator from Florida, are “owned by the NRA” flies in the face of any understanding of why groups donate money to politicians and does not allow for the possibility of a simple political and ideological disagreement on this issue. It is my contention that Marco Rubio among other “Pro-Second Amendment” politicians get donations from the groups like the NRA because he and others support gun rights, rather than the other way around. This pokes a hole in the argument that the NRA is the root of all evil in the American gun debate and if lasting change is the goal then those in support of increased gun control would be wise to recognize that.

Following the Fort Collins march I believed that we were not about to witness drastic change on gun policy in the country. I still maintain that position and believe that a bunch of people yelling past each other and each attributing malice to the other is not a recipe for productive legislative change within a democracy.

With the 2018 midterms fast approaching, we will find out shortly whether I am right or wrong. Being a midterm election without a galvanizing issue, voter turnout is typically low; guns, however, might be just the issue that the Democrats need to claim majorities back in both houses of Congress. Guns may also be just the kind of issue that drives Republicans out to vote, and the evidence suggests that this may be more likely as the Democrats’ lead in the generic ballot has narrowed following the demonstrations such as “The March for our Lives.”

3 Comments

3 Responses to “Protest Perspective”

  1. Cullin Bell on March 29th, 2018 9:26 am

    I wholeheartedly believe that nothing that happened during the Fort Collins walkout did anything more than drive a wedge between pro-gun and anti-gun students. The idea that schools are safe is ridiculous, but it’s even more so to think that has anything to do with the NRA or people owning guns. It has more to do with people. The NRA has nothing to do with the mass shootings and the fact that people believe that is crazy to me. I commend you for being part of the pro-gun participants, and showing that the anti-gunners (generally) have no clue what they are talking about.

    [Reply]

  2. Aiden Reiff on May 10th, 2018 9:25 am

    This was a good article. It gave really good insight on how people started jumping to conclusions when scared. Wonderful job.

    [Reply]

  3. Jake Peterson on May 16th, 2018 12:29 pm

    We will need to take a circuitous route to solve the gun problem and be sure that the solution doesn’t make guns contraband.

    [Reply]

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