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Channeling our children's energy

Several of my friends have thrown up their hands in frustration over the recent March 24th 'gun control' demonstrations held by America's youth in places like the nation's capital and in other major U.S. cities. It's understandable that they believe that our children should first and foremost be able to experience a childhood before they launch themselves into social activism, but there is another side to the story.

Students like those from the high school in Parkland, Florida have already been robbed of the last precious years of their childhood because of their horrible first-hand confrontation with evil and the death of their classmates. We who weren't there and didn't experience their ordeal must allow them their expressions of anger and their protests about something that's gone on for way too long in America...senseless violence and the murder of innocent people.

We also owe them our own stories of growing up with civil unrest and war as well as a history lesson about America, our Constitution, man's free will, and the unpredictability of life. Unfortunately, many of us - parents in particular - preach instead of teach, and with teenagers that usually gets us nowhere. No one can argue against the need to protect our children from harm (especially when they're in school), but for many of the youthful protesters that took to the streets on Saturday their mantra was one of abolishing all guns and targeting the National Rifle Association and Congressional Representatives who support the Second Amendment as 'enablers' of murder.

A whole lot of youthful energy that could have been put to good use was hijacked by the anti-gun supporters of the march most of whom want excessive firearm restrictions that would severely hamper Americans' right to keep and bear arms and would do little to protect those who marched while they sat in class. In similar fashion to the Democrats' refusal to settle on a DACA fix for 700,000 young people, children were once again used as pawns in protest marches instead of a serious national debate on a host of possible solutions that could prevent future senseless killings in our schools.

Even some of the most intractable NRA members say it's time for us to step up and demand that mentally disturbed individuals not be allowed to purchase firearms, but the majority stop short of limiting or banning the sale of semi-automatic weapons of which there are millions in circulation.

Incidentally, long rifles like the AR-15 are not assault weapons. They are a semi-automatic version of the U.S. military's M-16 fully automatic weapon that has "selective fire capabilities" that go way beyond that of the AR-15. When I recently made that point to a KUNM National Public Radio executive, she said, "we are using the Merriam Webster dictionary's definition" which is: "any of various intermediate-range, magazine-fed military rifles (such as the AK-47) that can be set for automatic or semiautomatic fire; also : a rifle that resembles a military assault rifle but is designed to allow only semiautomatic fire."

That may be how the venerable dictionary and NPR view it, but that's not how the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) or the U.S. government's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms sees it. There is a distinct difference between an semi-automatic and automatic weapon. And by the way, all owners of automatic weapons must have a Federal Firearms license. The AR-15 is built on a weapon platform or design and there are many other manufacturers of long guns built on the same platform, so outlawing the AR-15 would not stop the manufacture of other, similar weapons. So when our young people latch on to the talking points of the anti-gun Left they are being told half-truths. If we sincerely want to bring our teenagers into the debate about school safety then let's do so with the facts about the Second Amendment, our current local laws AND our individual communities' challenges. It does no good to frame the debate in generalizations, misrepresentations or emotions.

Stephan Helgesen is a retired U.S. diplomat and now political analyst and author. He has written nine books and over 800 articles on politics, economics and social trends. He can be reached at:

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