WASHINGTON ― After what seems like a never-ending stream of deadly mass shootings, many gun reform proponents fear that Americans have become too desensitized to bloodshed to demand action to end gun violence. This time may be different, in part because of the unusual visibility of some school shooting survivors from Parkland, Florida.
A number of teenagers who survived last week's massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in which 17 people died, have been outspoken in their calls for stricter gun legislation. They've appeared on cable news shows to plead with lawmakers to take action to address gun violence. They've used social media platforms like Twitter to rebut lawmakers' arguments on gun control in real time. And one group is organizing a nationwide march next month to demand that politicians make ending gun violence a priority.
But their outspokenness has drawn criticism from some conservatives, who have sought to discredit arguments in favor of gun control by targeting the students themselves.
Student survivors are really tools of a left-wing conspiracy
Former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) suggested on Tuesday that left-wing organizations ― like the one run by billionaire and liberal activist George Soros, a favorite boogeyman of the right ― were using the students who survived the Parkland shooting to advance their gun reform cause.
"Their sorrow can very easily be hijacked by left-wing groups who have an agenda," Kingston said on CNN's "New Day."
"Do we really think 17-year-olds on their own are going to plan a nationwide rally?" added the conservative activist, who is also the CNN contributor.
Angry student survivors quickly responded to Kingston's remarks, rejecting the notion they aren't able to speak and think on their own.
"I think it's very despicable that he would even have the audacity to say that," student survivor Brandon Abzug said. "Especially in the wake of a tragedy, we really show who we truly are. Just because we're young we can't make a difference is not right."
An aide to Florida state Rep. Shawn Harrison (R) on Tuesday dismissed a pair of outspoken Parkland students as attention-seeking "actors."
"Both kids in the picture are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen," the unnamed aide told Tampa Bay Times reporter Alex Leary.
Survivors are biased because some are related to FBI agents
Donald Trump Jr. on Tuesday "liked" two posts on Twitter pushing conspiracy theories about one student survivor and his father, a former FBI agent.
"Could it be that this student is running cover for his dad who Works as an FBI agent at the Miami field office Which botched tracking down the Man behind the Valentine day massacre? Just wondering. Just connecting some dots," read one of the tweets by Graham Ledger, the host of a talk show on far-right cable news channel OANN.
Ledger's tweet linked to a Gateway Pundit article alleging that 17-year-old David Hogg, a Parkland student who has advocated for gun control in the wake of the shooting, was coached on what to say by his father, a retired FBI agent. Gateway Pundit is known for pushing unhinged conspiracy theories and hoaxes about just about everything.
Another tweet Trump Jr. "liked" included a link titled, "VIDEO: Outspoken Trump-Hating School Shooting Survivor is Son of FBI Agent; MSM Helps Prop Up Incompetent Bureau." The purported connection is that Hogg was a tool of the FBI, which President Donald Trump and his supporters have been waging a war against amid the ongoing Russia investigation.
Student survivors can't credibly opine on shootings
Former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly pondered whether the media ought to be interviewing Parkland students because they are in an "emotional state."
Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, meanwhile, questioned whether the survivors of a mass shooting had any special insight on the issue of gun violence, and that they were merely being used by the left.
"What, pray tell, did these students do to earn their claim to expertise?" Shapiro wrote in National Review. "They were present during a mass shooting, and they have the right point of view, according to the Left. There's a reason that producers at CNN are eager to put junior Cameron Kasky in front of the cameras: He says things like 'You're either with us or against us.' It seems a stretch to think that if Kasky were instead advocating for more armed school security, CNN would be breaking into its primetime lineup to air his views."
This article has been updated with comment from Harrison's aide.