In response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, a handful of Penn students planned an on-campus demonstration against gun violence. Participants lined up along Locust Walk holding sheets of paper with the details of each mass shooting in America since January 2017. Even though I am just as much against gun violence as the next person, I found this event to be completely pointless.
First, could they possibly find a more universally agreed-upon topic to have a demonstration for? I highly doubt anyone is in favor of gun violence. These students are holding a demonstration for something with which no sane person would disagree.
The Facebook event described wanting “to create a clear image of campus solidarity and commitment.” I didn’t realize people doubted anyone’s solidarity with victims of gun violence. If these students didn’t stand in solidarity, then the whole world could only logically think they stand for gun violence. While we’re at it, we should hold demonstrations for every other universally hated thing so that people know where we stand.
The only thing these students demonstrated was blatant virtue-signaling and this is abhorrent.
Second, if we interpret the purpose of this event as raising awareness instead of simply standing in solidarity, we are faced with the extreme arrogance of this event.
Considering seventeen people were killed last week in a school shooting, it is not currently possible to raise any additional awareness about gun violence. The news cycle has been saturated with facts, commentary, and debates about gun violence. It is insensitive to last week’s tragic school shooting to think a few somber-faced college kids with paper signs can contribute any more to public awareness.
People may not know the exact statistics of gun violence, but that does not mean people are unaware that gun violence is occurring and is problematic. Thinking one can bring more attention to the problem of gun violence at this point is simply being insensitive and arrogant. However, their true motive wasn’t an impossible attempt to bring more attention to gun violence, but a ploy to selfishly attract attention to the students themselves.
One of the Facebook event co-hosts and co-writer of the Daily Pennsylvanian article on the demonstration posted this on the event page just hours before the start:
“CONFIRMED. at least 3 Philly news outlets will be there today — come show the world how much Penn cares about this issue (and be on TV!!!)!”
Clearly they had a few things on their mind other than selflessly raising awareness for the victims. At least for the event planners, the demonstration wasn’t about the actual issue, but about bringing attention to themselves and the chance to “be on TV!!!” This egotism is also seen on their flyers and Facebook event description which admit to their desire to bring attention to “our presence” while they held their signs.
Furthermore, the organizers of the event even acknowledge the ineffectiveness of the demonstration. In an article in the Daily Pennsylvanian they explain:
“We understand the limitations of symbolic efforts to effect real change, but we also want to do something now. We want to act before people revert to the cycle of anger, op-eds, silence, and begin again.”
In other words, they know a demonstration doesn’t help anything, but gun violence is a hot topic and if they acted now they could “be on TV!!!” Unfortunately, demonstrations are actually a part of “the cycle” at Penn. As a result, their stand against gun violence is just a standard part of the sad pattern of initial outrage followed by lack of “real change”.
Lastly, this demonstration was dishonest in its presentation. They advertised they were taking a stand against gun violence. However, one of the many unclear goals of this demonstration may have been to educate and motivate people to get involved with pushing for gun legislation reform.
In their Daily Pennsylvanian article, they reveal: “We hope that our demonstration will inspire a greater conversation on campus about gun reform.”
If that was a goal, then instead of taking a stand against gun violence (which at this point can only be seen as obnoxious virtue-signaling), they should have taken a stand for gun reform and been clear about their intentions. Instead, they deceptively conflated the existence of gun violence with the need for gun reform.
Personally, I agree with them that a certain kind of gun reform is needed to deal with gun violence and we should be discussing this more; however, I do not believe gun reform is a panacea for all gun violence and equating the two is inimical to productive conversation.
Overall, this demonstration had no clear purpose and failed to achieve any possible purpose. It tried to stand in solidarity with something no one is against, attempted to raise awareness of something everyone is currently aware of, and was unsuccessful in communicating its true desire for gun reform.