At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, students across Ohio walked out of schools to pay tribute to the 17 people killed — 14 of them teenagers — in last month's gun massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
In this same hour, a National Rifle Association spokeswoman sent an email to Ohio journalists with this subject line: "OH — pro-Second Amendment HS students to counter gun control protests."
Here we go.
Amy Hunter's email began:
"Hi Ohio reporters—
"With all the protests today, I wanted to make sure you all had contact information for some high school kids in Ohio who feel strongly about protecting the Second Amendment. They are happy to talk to reporters."
She provided the cellphone number for the father of a girl, as well as the number for a father of "two teen age kids." She also included her cell and office numbers, both with a northern Virginia area code.
Her email arrived within minutes of my return from covering the peaceful student walkout at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Kent, Ohio. I responded with a simple question: "Ms. Hunter, how are the nationwide student protests threatening the Second Amendment?"
Her response: "Hi Connie — I didn't say that they were. These are just the names of two students in Ohio who feel strongly about protecting the second amendment. The protests are covered extensively, so it's timely."
Where to start.
In her response, Hunter changed the number of students available for interviews. First it was three; then it was two. She also failed this time to capitalize her beloved Second Amendment. I'll cut her a little slack, as these were likely mistakes of haste. That can happen when you're so busy trying to undermine tens of thousands of teenagers, state by state, one time zone at a time.
What I won't overlook is Hunter's failure even to acknowledge why these high school students were protesting and her attempts to mischaracterize their mission.
As a columnist, I've been writing about the need for better gun safety laws for 16 years now, so I'm accustomed to the dishonest tactics of the NRA. Trying to discredit protesting teenagers, however — and only a month after 14 of their own were gunned down — exposes a new low of desperation. It also illustrates why the NRA is increasingly denounced as a terrorist organization. If you're going to try to demonize kids speaking out against gun violence, you've lost whatever bit was left of your collective soul.
Their mission is apparent with even a cursory review of media coverage of Wednesday's student protests. Students are scared and angry, and they are unwilling to be silent anymore for the simplest of horrible reasons: We have failed to protect our children, for decades.
On Sept. 16, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four little black girls during Sunday services. The editor of The Atlanta Constitution, fellow southerner Gene Patterson, wrote a now-famous column about the tragedy.
This paragraph, in particular, feels eerily familiar:
"We — the heirs of a proud South, who protest its worth and demand it recognition — we are the ones who have ducked the difficult, skirted the uncomfortable, caviled at the challenge, resented the necessary, rationalized the unacceptable, and created the day surely when these children would die."
Define "we" now as voters and legislators and we are describing our collective failure to protect our children from guns and the NRA.
In her email response to me, Hunter acknowledged, "The protests are covered extensively." That's fear talking. Thanks to our kids, America's attention span is evolving.
One of the organizers of the walkout at Kent's Roosevelt High School was Barbara Hickin, who is vice president of the student council. She designed the back of the one-page bright orange flyer for the protest. The front included the names and office phone numbers for their members of Congress and a script for calls. On the back, Hickin posted a photo of every person killed in the Parkland massacre, each identified by name and age.
Hickin smiled when I asked her age. She turned 18 on March 5, which is also the day she registered to vote.
When it was her turn to speak to the crowd of students, Hickin climbed the ladder in the bitter cold and directed her message to those students turning 18 by Nov. 6.
Register, she said. And vote.
She is why, when I first read that NRA email, I had to smile.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.