Rachel Conrad: Act on what young people are telling us

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Friday, March 09, 2018
Act on what young people are telling us

It is heartening to hear about young people taking action by writing letters (as did a group of Amherst Regional Middle School students to Congressman James McGovern, who read the letter into the congressional record last week “‘It’s always in the back of my mind’,” March 3), by demonstrating outside their schools, and by traveling to statehouses to demand gun control.

These youths see gun control as a question of young people’s rights to education and safety, which should take precedence over adults’ rights to guns.

Young people like those demanding action on guns in Florida and elsewhere are asserting that they have rights, as a general principle, in addition to taking a stand on particular rights. It is convenient for those who assert adults’ “right to bear arms” as a constitutional principle that the United States is now the only United Nations member state that has not ratified the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In national debates and policy, it’s clear that children’s rights are not at the forefront of our conversations.

The Amherst middle school students wrote, “what scares us most of all is that our government fails to do anything” on gun control. Young people know that it is morally wrong to maintain laws and policies that threaten every American child’s safety, and their sense of safety.

And young people know that it is wrong to do so especially because it privileges adults’ “gun rights” over children’s rights to be safe, to receive an education and to not have to worry about being shot in their classrooms. Young people understand the irony of adults saying that children are the future, while at the same time making or retaining laws and policies that threaten children’s survival as part of that future.

Let’s listen to what young people are telling us, and act on it.

Rachel Conrad


The writer is a professor of childhood studies at Hampshire College.