Photo: Getty

It did not take long for America’s despicable conservative movement to lose its goddamn mind about the campaign by Parkland shooting survivors to, you know, not be shot in their classrooms. Laura Ingraham is just the tip of the vile iceberg; look in the fever swamps of right-wing Twitter and you’ll see that it gets much, much worse:

This is true even among verified, not-anonymous people who should be a lot more embarrassed by what they’re saying:

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These people are, of course, disgusting and ridiculous, another symptom of the psychosis affecting millions of conservatives.

And yet, even with this incredible competition, CNN’s Brian Stelter has managed to squeeze out such an awful turd of a take that it warrants a special mention:

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As Stelter said, this was a summary of an appearance he made on Anderson Cooper’s Thursday show. Here’s part of what he said then, according to CNN’s transcript (emphasis mine):

[T]he students are off on college tours, they’re thinking about their futures. They’re going to make some missteps along the way. And I think we should be candid about that. Some of these students in their rhetoric, I would argue they go too far, there are times when they may be doing their cause a disservice, by being so harsh in the rhetoric against gun rights proponents.

But at the same time some on the right are going too far by attacking these students and in some cases promoting conspiracy.

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The kids whose friends died in front of them are being too overheated? My God! Fuck this!

My initial analysis of this was that Stelter had become a victim of the Both Sides virus that afflicts the Objective Newsman—that ridiculous impulse to say, hey now, remember that both sides are to blame for this thing that is clearly 99 to 100 percent the fault of one side. My second thought was that maybe this was a symptom of a separate, but related, disease that can afflict the Objective Newsman: the pathetic, gutless devotion to a false notion of “civility” above all else, wherein it is civil to pass a bill that will gut healthcare for millions but not civil to say “fuck,” don’t you DARE say it.

But I don’t think that fully explains such a horrid position. I think, above all else, what motivates this is a desire to seem smart. The “smart take” on the Parkland survivors is to say that hey, maybe they go too far, but they’re just kids, and they’re figuring things out. It reminds me of how I would conclude every essay in high school: While on the one hand [this], it remains true that [this], and ultimately we must acknowledge [this]. There. Done. Give me an A.

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If you want to be very generous to Stelter, you could say that the cable news format doesn’t give you time to fully articulate a nuanced view and to point out that, of course, these kids might be more heated because they just got shot at like a month ago. But even that would miss what makes the Parkland kids so powerful.

If their rhetoric gets heated sometimes, it is because they have lived through something that no one should experience—because their classmates are dead. What makes them so powerful is that their commitment is not to “strategy” but to reflecting the utterly sordid truth of the gun debate: That as it stands, human lives are valued less than guns. It is the very fact that they aren’t part of the usual back-and-forth on guns, and therefore not bound by the terms of that debate, that makes them worth listening to. They didn’t choose this life, and they weren’t brought to the gun violence debate by some abstract commitment to bettering America. They came to it through bloodshed, and they bring with them the fierce righteousness of lived horror that no one, particularly not comfortable cable hosts, has the right to deny.

The gun debate is characterized by one side—the gun rights side—being utterly extreme at all costs, to the point where the NRA has lobbied for allowing guns in bars, and the other—the gun control side—being very careful about what it says. The gun control side is largely framed as being against “gun violence” and not guns themselves. It spends an incredible—and largely fruitless—amount of energy reassuring people that they’re not coming to take their guns.

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It does this despite the glaring, unavoidable fact that the insane number of guns in America is the primary cause of its extremely high rates of gun deaths, and that the best solution to America’s absurd rates of gun violence would be to take most of the guns and melt them in a big furnace until they are all gone. Americans aren’t intrinsically so much more violent than people in other countries that a flaw in their national character can explain the vast gap in gun deaths. More people die from gun violence here because there are more guns here.

Fixing mental health provision or background checks or making it impossible for domestic abusers to get guns are all things that would lower gun deaths, and they are likely the only things that are attainable given the huge structural, cultural and monetary advantage the NRA has. I don’t blame gun control campaigns for focusing on those goals instead of something seemingly impossible like gun confiscation. That includes the Parkland kids, who have taken pains to clarify that they aren’t in favor of repealing the Second Amendment.

But my god, if the gun control side can’t have the victories it deserves, can’t it at least have some rhetoric to match the utter insanity of the situation we face? We are currently living in a world where, just over five years ago, 20 tiny children, just six and seven years old, were shot in their classroom, and that nightmare was met by America’s policymakers with a cold shoulder and a shrug. We live in a world where black children are 10 times more likely to die by guns than white children. We are living in a nightmare, and yet we are not allowed to scream. Brian Stelter lives in this nightmare with us, and yet he would tell survivors of this unimaginable terror to shush, to not be too silly, now.

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The Parkland kids are not perfect. Nor are they a homogenous group. Their proposal to change privacy laws to “allow mental healthcare providers to communicate with law enforcement” drew justified criticism. But if their rhetoric is heated—if they ever go “too far,” as Stelter put it—thank Christ we’re seeing that from the gun control side and not from the psychotic fascists at the NRA. The Parkland kids are famous because their friends are dead, and their rage is not only justified, it’s what makes them so powerful. They’re not pundits, they’re not lobbyists, they’re not part of the Washington policy scene. They’re kids whose friends are dead, and, despite what Brian Stelter says, they should be screaming their lungs out.