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EDITORIAL: Questioning Fla. students' credibility is a new low

In the wake of last week's massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the gun rights debate is once again in full swing — complete with conspiracy theories about students who are agitating for legislative action.

By Monday the conspiracy theory du jour was that the students agitating for change were “crisis actors” — political operatives brought in to fake grief and work to build support for tougher gun laws.

On Wednesday our very own state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-12th, reminded people that he doesn't mind getting down in the mud.

Metcalfe tweeted and wrote on Facebook about the “hypocrisy of the left,” as it related to the students' messages on gun control. He also alluded to the crisis actors conspiracy theory, referring to the Parkland teenagers as “students,” in quotation marks, in his posts.

Let's be very clear: the conspiracy theories about these students are lies.

One person, Florida state legislative aide Benjamin Kelly, was quickly fired after parroting the “crisis actors” accusation during a television interview Tuesday. Another, conservative pundit Dinesh D'Souza, was forced to apologize after a series of tweets in which he mocked the students and questioned their “politically orchestrated grief.”

Legitimate disagreements over policy issues are a good thing — a normal, democratic, American tradition.

Lies, conspiracy theories and misinformation are something else. And attempting to shame and silence young people — or argue that they don't even deserve to be listened to in the first place — is flat-out repugnant.

Mr. Metcalfe is one of Pennsylvania's most vocal and passionate Second Amendment advocates. His voice should be invaluable.

Unfortunately, Metcalfe cannot be taken seriously until he jettisons his juvenile predeliction for histrionics and tone-deaf political sideshows.

For a lawmaker who just last year pledged to hold up a good government reform bill because he was offended by the “disrespect,” of protestors pushing for the bill's passage, Metcalfe has shown an unconscionable amount of disrespect to and for a group of teenagers whose friends were just brutally murdered.

Why a 10-term state House member is unwilling or unable to engage a group of bereaved teenagers in good faith and on the merits of their arguments is beyond us. But if Metcalfe has nothing more substantive to offer than this, he should remain silent.

If Metcalfe believes that his conduct — and the media attention he receives because of it — is advancing the cause of Second Amendment rights in this country, he is sorely mistaken.

The only thing he managed to accomplish Wednesday was secure more attention for Parkland students and their cause, erode his own reputation in Harrisburg, and further paint himself as an unprincipled and opportunistic agitator who is willing to do and say just about anything to get attention.