The country sat back, horrified once again, at a mass shooting that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. The gunman was a former student, age 19, who had been expelled and flagged as dangerous by those who knew him. Seventeen people—14 students and three adults—were killed in the rampage.
Many parents have had no choice but to accept— and try not to think about— the new normal in which getting an education carries a dangerous risk. But this reality should not be normal.
After the Sandy Hook shooting, when I was still a freshman in high school, I had assumed that Congress would take meaningful action. From my 13-year-old perspective, when something horrible occurs, the government passes a law to fix the problem.
Not the case.
Instead, my high school felt the need to start practicing lockdown drills after Congress failed to pass any measure of safety. Today, students there have to swipe in using identification keys.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the 2015-2016 school year, an astonishing 94.6 of schools felt compelled to conduct lockdown drills; in 2013-2014, 70.3 percent conducted active shooter drills.
Lawmakers’ inaction has had its consequences. In fact, Columbine is no longer one of the 10 deadliest shootings in modern U.S. history.
In response to the most recent tragedy in Parkland, the 17th of 18 school shootings this year, the voices of survivors are rising in protest. Students have called on the emptiness of lawmakers’ “thoughts and prayers,” and it is essential that Congress respond with decisive reform.
Students are demanding gun control laws be passed and implemented. Among those demands are universal background checks, a ban on assault rifles— the weapon of choice for many shooters—and mental health reform.
“We are up here standing together because if all our government and President can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see,” said Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Gonzalez’s speech at the rally in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on February 17 has gone viral.
After the Parkland shooting, students began holding rallies, participating in school walkouts, and staging lie-ins in front of the White House. The Stoneman Douglas students are planning a march on Washington, D.C. on March 24, which they have named March For Our Lives. Students in many other metropolitan areas— including Los Angeles, Chicago and Las Vegas— are planning sister marches.
Zachary Fagan, a freshman at Georgetown University, is one of 10 students planning Georgetown’s school walkout on March 14 as part of the National School Walkout being organized by the Women’s March organization.
Fagan became involved with gun control activism after his cousin, Vicki Soto, was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting while working as a first-grade teacher there. He believes students are demanding change because of the sheer number of school shootings, and because they have no political capital to lose.
“We’re the ones being affected, and if nothing happens, the kids after us will be affected,” he said.
Karishma Trivedi, a Georgetown senior, is another organizer of the school’s planned walkout.
“So many people are so invested,” she said. “There’s been a surge of student support.”
Students have often been on the front lines of political change, seeing beyond how things “have always been” and using their voices even before they are eligible to vote. In a rush of idealism and activism, students across the country have joined Parkland students in their demand for gun reform legislation.
As a college student with siblings in high school and middle school, each school shooting feels closer and closer to home for me. In the days and weeks following each horrific tragedy, my mind wanders into the dreaded “what if” territory. Checking the news becomes more of a reassurance of my family’s safety, rather than a neutral act.
With 17 more lives lost to gun violence, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and at schools around the country are saying enough. No more fear in the classroom. No more political battles over innocent lives. Never again.
“We do have a voice and you will have to listen to us,” Trivedi said.
In response to the NRA’s “good guy with a gun” rhetoric and President Donald Trump’s suggestion to arm teachers for safety, students and many others have pointed out the fallacies of their arguments.
“Guns in schools make students less safe – plain and simple,” said Alexandra Brodsky, a National Women’s Law Center fellow. “A teacher’s job is to teach, just that. Educators aren’t prepared to take on the responsibility of armed combat, and the mere presence of a gun in the classroom will put young people at further risk.”
The next generation of voters is making their presence known. Congress and all lawmakers would do well to listen to these students, as they may soon form their own voting bloc. Beyond marches, rallies and speeches, these students are registering and pre-registering to vote.
Those who don’t understand that gun control is a women’s issue should look at what happened after Sandy Hook, when women created Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. So many have a stake in the safety of schoolchildren. Moreover, the right of every woman, indeed every parent, to raise their child in a safe environment is an issue of reproductive justice. Women should have the right not only to abstain from motherhood, but also to become mothers and expect their child will come home from school.
It is imperative that Congress members actually protect the citizens they represent. The issue of gun control intersects with many others — racism, misogyny, and mental health, to name a few — but as we untangle the web, we should be able to trust that our government is prioritizing our safety and protection. We must become a society that values the lives of our students, rather than remain stuck in an endless cycle of tragedy, thoughts, and prayers.