Why Do We Need Facts and Reason When We Can Just Feel Things?


Students from across the Twin Cities marched from St. Paul Central High School to the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul to demonstrate against gun violence Wednesday, March 7, 2018. (Jean Pieri / Pioneer Press)

My print column last Sunday made two points.

First, that schools shouldn’t have excused students for the anti-gun protests. Second that the argument the students were making – that America is more violent with more gun crimes and more school shootings – is wrong based on the data.

There have been a lot of rebuttals to that column in the letters to the editor of the various publications it was printed in, and a consistent message from the critics is that they aren’t going to let my facts trump their feelings.

“His use of irrelevant facts to cloud the killing of children in their neighborhood schools is inexcusable,” writes Richard Ray in a letter to the Grand Forks Herald.

I have a feeling that facts about gun violence and school shootings would be relevant to the debate over school shootings if they supported the argument people like Ray want to make. Truth is, they do not.

In a letter to the Fargo Forum, Bemidji social studies teacher Jeff Aas dismisses my point about public institutions treating all speech equally by arguing that the these anti-gun student protests were more equal than other types of speech. Or something like that:

…are you trying to emphasize that schools should allow any student to demonstrate for any cause cloaked in free speech? You are minimizing the impact of what these students have accomplished. The students are leading a nationwide demonstration that we have not seen in decades. It is not simply occuring in Fargo or Bemidji. You are missing the context of the demonstration. This was a nationwide movement led by students that gained traction in every state of the union. You minimize the student demonstration by making it sound like if Joe Student has a gripe then the school should allow him to demonstrate.

Public schools are public. That means they have certain obligations under the 1st amendment when it comes to political speech. I think it’s fine that the students protested, even if I think their arguments are fallacious, but when schools excused students for the protest they set a precedent which must be applied to other forms of political speech during the school day.

Aas wants the anti-gun protests to be different, because he feels like they’re different, but the government has no business making decisions that inhibit or facilitate political speech based on the content of the speech.

The freedom of speech means allowing free speech, not just speech we happen to like.

School shootings generate a lot of emotion in all of us. They’re awful. Tragic. Heart wrenching.

All that said, rarely is good public policy made on the basis of raw emotion.