Don’t be distracted by ‘kindness’

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category icon Editorials, Opinion

On March 14, one month after a teenager armed with a semiautomatic weapon slaughtered 14 students and three adults inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, thousands of students from more than 3,000 schools joined the youth-led National School Walkout and pushed for immediate and meaningful gun control.

Among the Parkland students’ most urgent demands: ban the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons like the AR-15 used in the Parkland shooting.

“Thoughts and prayers won’t stop my brothers and my sisters from dying — action will,” 16-year-old Sheryl Acquaroli, a Stoneman Douglas student, told Florida lawmakers one week after the shooting.

A few days before the walkout, an obviously grief-stricken father of a Parkland victim, Ryan Petty, said he had a better idea: Instead of walking out, students should “walk up” to a shy, quiet student and be kind.

“If you really want to stop the next school shooter #walkupnotout,” Petty tweeted.

Meanwhile, in Camas, a friend of Petty’s from the men’s Brigham Young University days, Ernie Geigenmiller, was using his local media platform, Lacamas Magazine, to push for something similar to the “Walk Up Not Out” idea: a month of kind acts to be covered by the magazine. Geigenmiller called it #MarchKindness and posted a video to his media site — portraying several local leaders, including the mayors of both Camas and Washougal and the principal of Camas High — asking local folks to share their kind acts throughout the month of March.

On its surface, the idea seemed like a nice way to spread love in a hate-filled world. And we believe that was the intent of Geigenmiller and local leaders who threw their support to the #MarchKindness project.

As journalists, however, we had a few qualms. First, there was the most glaring “uh oh” — and that’s the fact that a media outlet should never create news or start a “movement,” no matter how well-intentioned.

Our concerns were just passing thoughts until Geigenmiller showed up to city council meetings with news that Utah lawmakers had passed legislation related to his “movement,” and designated a #MSDKindness month. That took our worries to a new level.

As it turns out, the chief sponsor of the Utah legislation is a politician named Paul Ray. This is a man who has pushed to reinstate Utah’s death-by-firing-squad and helped pass legislation making it harder for police to charge someone openly carrying a gun. Not exactly the type of guy prone to “random acts of kindness.”

Ray does has a few loyal supporters, including the National Rifle Association. Which makes sense, once you realize that NRA-backed groups are throwing support to the #WalkUpNotOut movement. Why? It’s a great way to distract from the Parkland students’ gun control demands. After all, who is going to argue that we need LESS kindness in the world right now?

The trouble with this distraction is that kindness only goes so far. False narratives, which started with shoddy reporting after the Columbine school shooting, have perpetuated the myth that most mass shooters are ostracized kids seeking revenge on their bullies. In reality, most mass shooters have been bullying the women and girls in their life for years, and simply “being nice” to them isn’t going to stop mass shootings.

Consider the 2015 Charleston church shooting, in which a killer sat with his victims inside their church, praying with them and reaping their acceptance and warmth before shooting them. Their kindness couldn’t sway him from his murderous intentions.

Of course, there’s no reason why we can’t be kind and listen to the Parkland students’ cries for sane gun control. These teenagers have already made an impact — thanks to new gun laws passed in Florida after the #NeverAgain students’ push for gun control, law enforcement officials this week prevented the Parkland shooter’s brother from accessing guns and possibly harming people in an already devastated community.

Research proves that curbing the sale of semiautomatic weapons reduces mass shootings. The teen activists who created the #NeverAgain and #MarchForOurLives movements understand this. And they recognize that the gun lobby loves distracting us with “kindness movements” like #WalkUpNotOut.

We can only hope that, if/when young activists come to city meetings pleading for gun control efforts in the name of Parkland students, our Camas and Washougal mayors lend the same amount of enthusiasm that they did when a media outlet came calling for a kindness movement in the name of Parkland students.