WASHINGTON — It was a profoundly poignant image: Thirty to 40 teens huddled together in a small dark room, their downturned faces illuminated by cellphones as they learned about an active shooter prowling their school.
Via news apps, these survivors of Wednesday’s murderous rampage at a Parkland, Florida, high school, where 17 were killed and 15 injured, watched news develop in real time as the horror was occurring just a short walk away. Their virtual distance from the shooter was probably little comfort when the inconceivable might still happen. A locked door is no barrier to a semi-automatic weapon. While brothers, sisters, friends and teachers were out there, possibly being shot, this group stared helplessly, mesmerized by the gruesome reality show playing out on their screens.
Nearly every news report mentioned the instant-replay aspect of what transpired. “Thoughts and prayers” fell uselessly upon ears deafened by gunshot and hearts numb to their meaning. The same debates followed the same questions: What will it take? How many children have to die before “they” do something? I’ve written this column before.
In a fresh if disconcerting twist, the student survivors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School almost seemed to be performing in their media appearances. Like well-rehearsed actors, they seemed to know their moves, what to say, how to speak to the camera. It was spooky listening to some of them, so articulate and calm in the aftermath of such carnage. Their reactions seemed more studied than real. But then, why wouldn’t students adept at drills and color-coded alerts have a few bullet points in mind for the day just in case a gunman showed up at their school?
David Hogg was a standout that day. A 17-year-old senior and school news director, Hogg happened to have been among the few dozen students stowed in the dark office earlier mentioned. And somehow, he just happened to detach himself from the ongoing mayhem long enough to interview and record his fellow students about what they were experiencing and, in a scene worthy of a future teen cult movie, record their thoughts about gun policy.
When Hogg later appeared on camera, he spoke like a seasoned combat correspondent. Seemingly mature beyond his years, he looked straight into the camera and, speaking concisely, he addressed the sad reality of our nation’s failure to put an end to gun violence.
“Ideas are great,” he intoned. “What we really need is action.”
Despite sounding more adult than many adults, Hogg was nonetheless keen to remind viewers that he isn’t really a grown-up. “We’re children,” he pleaded to the cameras. “You guys are the adults.” Indeed.
This calm, quick-witted kid is almost straight out of a novel. In my telling, he would go on to create and lead a movement that finally spurs serious gun reform in the U.S. and successfully lobbies Congress to designate the NRA as a terrorist organization. He would become the first high-school journalist to receive a Pulitzer Prize in a new category — “Making News While Covering Breaking News” — launching him on a TV career. Something like that.
Hogg could be the change agent many in the reform movement have been waiting for. He may represent a generational, evolutionary reflex to the paralysis that began 19 years ago when two shooters killed 13 people at Columbine High School. Hogg and his contemporaries have never known a world in which students, even first-graders, weren’t slaughtered at their desks. Sooner or later, someone was going to rise up as counterpoint to such evil.
Politicians don’t change or fix things until their constituents demand it — and every successful movement needs a charismatic leader. Might it take a youngster like Hogg to assume such a role? It is altogether fitting, if somehow strange, that a child born into a media culture would think first to turn on his camera, the better to capture the faces of fear. Doubtless, no one trapped in a room while bullets are flying and friends are dying thinks there shouldn’t be enhanced gun control.
In the battle for sensible reform, the guy with the camera has the biggest gun of all.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.