The Children’s Crusade

According to legend, in 1212, a shepherd boy experienced religious visions that inspired him to lead fellow children on a Children’s Crusade to the Holy Land to reclaim it for Christianity. They would do this not by sword but by peacefully persuading the Muslims in possession of the area to convert.

One version of the story identifies the shepherd as Nicholas of Cologne, Germany. As he and his friends trudged south, as many as 30,000 children joined his crusade. No provision for supplying the group had been made, and they subsisted by begging. Starvation was a natural consequence. That and a difficult crossing of the Alps killed two out of three, causing many of the survivors then to abandon the crusade. Nicholas had promised his followers that when they reached the Mediterranean, God would, as he had for Moses at the Red Sea, part the waters so they could walk to Jerusalem on the dry seabed. When this didn’t happen, more abandoned him.

Then two sea captains offered the remaining passage and they accepted. Instead of sailing for the Holy Land, however, the captains sailed to Tunisia where the children were sold to Muslim slave traders. Another version of the story says that Nicholas met with Pope Innocent III in Rome. The pope kindly urged him and his followers to be good children and return home to their families. Nicholas obediently led his followers back over the Alps. The journey was again arduous and he died during the crossing. When only a few of the children reached home, the families of the lost were outraged. Nicholas’ father was blamed for permitting his son to launch the crusade and was hanged.

What gives the story verisimilitude is that the young are idealistic and easily misled by charismatic voices that provide easy answers to difficult problems. Want the Muslims to give up Jerusalem? Just go explain Jesus to them and they’ll do it with a smile. Need a ride there? Trust strangers with boats. What could go wrong? Youthful, earnest faith will overcome all difficulties. Something similar is happening in America, today.

The massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, appalls every sane individual. The instinctive response is to wonder what can be done to prevent more bloodshed. The young and immature rush to name a simple solution that will give them the illusion of comfort and control in the face of unimaginable, but complex, horror. No guns equals no deaths. This is what a group of students from that school will insist upon in demonstrations now and during March. Their sincerity is real. Being terrorized and having friends killed is overwhelming. Their concerns need to be addressed but something unsavory is happening instead. They are being used to promote a political agenda.

The movement may have begun with a Douglas High “shepherd” or shepherds, but they are now just the face of the demonstrations. These original shepherds aren’t organizing or financing them. The most prominent of the groups that are is supporting them is the “youth branch” of the Woman’s March organization—you know, the gals of “pussy hat” fame.

The Women’s March featured Madonna expressing her desire to blow up the White House with Trump and, presumably, lots of other deplorables inside. That invocation of mass murder garnered raucous cheers but now the organization, in an unsurprising but stunning display of total lack of self-awareness, has moved on to denounce gun violence. Of course, Trump is still the locus of their ire and he is to blame, not only for America’s supposed misogyny but also, it seems, for all gun deaths. Slander him enough and his opponents will regain power. If this means exploiting the sympathy the public has for the Douglas High kids, why not?

Not since the “War is not healthy for children and other living things” poster has the Left so blatantly exploited the plaintive fears of children. But let us try a thought experiment. Let’s suppose the kids get what they want.

The usual demand is “common sense gun control.” It’s advertised not as confiscation but only as the banning of weapons believed too dangerous for the public and the denial of firearms to those who are too irresponsible. Gun rights advocates, like the National Rifle Association, largely agree but they are concerned that anti-gun laws will grow more and more restrictive till it becomes impossible for ordinary citizens to own a gun. This is not an irrational fear. Washington, D.C. once made it so arduous to get a gun license that only a handful of applicants could get one. It took a trip to the Supreme Court to change that.

In 1990, Congress mandated that schools bar guns from their campuses to create “gun-free zones.” Other places, such as theatres and churches have also declared themselves such. The idea is that a sign prohibiting guns will, by some magic, prevent anyone from ever brandishing one on those premises. This does little more than turn these places into “free fire zones.” That’s what happened in Parkland and in too many other places. Few of those who advocate the tactic would put a “Gun-Free Zone” sign on their own lawns and risk criminals stopping by for a murderous rampage. Advocates sometimes counter that the policy fails because the rest of the country is not a gun-free zone.

But consider.

There are some 300 million firearms in private hands in America. If a ban were 99 percent successful, 3 million would remain in the hands of the non-law abiding while the law abiding would be unarmed. Confiscation would also be extremely expensive. In the War on Drugs, the U.S. has spent nearly $1 trillion dollars and illegal drugs remain easily available. Anti-gun advocates might argue that the lives saved would be worth the expense, but guns save lives as well as take them.

Google “woman shoots intruder” and you’ll find many reports of women who have used a gun to protect themselves. Add “saves children” and you’ll find the story of Melinda Herman of Loganville, Georgia. In 2013, she was in her home with her two children when a man forced his way inside. She hid with the children and telephoned for help but the intruder discovered them before police could arrive. What he would have done, we don’t know, for Mrs. Herman shot him. He died but she and her children didn’t. Women and the elderly are particularly vulnerable and those who live in dangerous neighborhoods are even more in danger. As has often been observed by Second Amendment supporters, only the equalizer that is a firearm can protect the innocent during the seconds when the police are minutes away. Civilians with firearms have even stopped mass shootings. The November 2017 shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas that killed 26 ended when a civilian shot the killer.

It’s notable that states with few gun laws and lots of guns have lower crime rates. As part of its rural legacy, Vermont has an abundance of firearms and the only significant state gun restrictions are laws regulating hunting. Montpelier, for example, the capital of the state, bans the use of rifles in city limits during hunting season because a misdirected rifle bullet can penetrate the wall of a house. Shotguns are permitted. Their shot doesn’t pierce walls as easily. With such weak laws, one might expect drive-by shootings to be more common than visits by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Instead, U.S. News and World Report named Vermont the safest state in the Union. Neighboring New York has more gun deaths despite strict gun laws. The defenders of their laws sometimes claim that this is because criminals buy guns in Vermont to use in New York. This is a curious idea as it takes as given that New Yorkers with guns will kill while not explaining why Vermonters with guns do not.

The Parkland shooter didn’t need to use subterfuge to get a gun. Despite intimidating fellow students, his creepily displaying knives and guns online, his killing small animals, the police being called to his home nearly 40 times to deal with his violence, and the FBI being notified twice about him threatening a killing spree, he wasn’t arrested for any of his criminal behavior. If he had been and had been convicted, his name would have been in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System database and he wouldn’t have been able to buy the gun he used. More laws weren’t necessary–just someone in authority for whom “common sense” was more than a slogan.

Not all homicidal nuts are as obvious as the killer in Parkland, and despite all that we can do, the ugly truth is that there are killers among us. We can increase security measures, limit the weapons available, and watch for homicidal mental illness, but even with perfect vigilance (which is impossible) they will still be there, unnoticed until they act. No children’s crusade, no matter how high-minded, can change that. Sometimes the only thing that can keep darkness at bay is the ability to defend yourself. For that, a gun is handy.

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About Ed Morrow

Ed Morrow is an author and illustrator who lives in Vermont with his wife Laurie and their son Ned. Morrow’s books include “The Halloween Handbook,” “599 Things You Should Never Do,” and “The Grim Reaper’s Book of Days.” His work has appeared at National Review Online, The American Spectator, the Daily Caller, and Front Page Magazine, among others.