Why the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School teen activists are so important

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Since 2000, there have been more than 188 shootings at schools and universities in the United States. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, during which 20 elementary school students and six adults were shot and killed, many thought the time had finally come for the government do something about gun violence. Yet even then, when faced with the deaths of young children and widespread support to increase gun control, our government failed to act, leading many to question what would have to happen to change politicians’ minds about the issue.

The February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School may be the tragic event that finally leads to the change this country needs to finally address gun control. After 17 people were killed at the school in Parkland, Florida, student survivors began to speak out about the outdated and dangerous gun laws that led to the killing of their friends and almost to their own deaths.

After the Parkland shooting, both political parties followed the designated roles they normally assume in the aftermath of gun violence–related travesties. Democrats demanded stronger gun control, while Republicans offered the same response they always give: They lambasted the Left for failing to give victims the time to mourn a tragedy. This was well embodied by Fox News contributor Tomi Lahren, who tweeted, “Can the Left let the families grieve for even 24 hours before they push their anti-gun and anti-gunowner agenda? My goodness. This isn't about a gun it's about another lunatic. #FloridaShooting”

Normally, the Right would follow this criticism of the Left by framing gun violence as a mental health issue and defend the gun rights the Second Amendment supposedly guarantees. Then, after no actual reform or action on any political front, both parties would move on. This time, however, the very victims that Tomi Lahren and other Republicans were supposedly trying to protect fought back. “I was hiding in a closet for 2 hours,” one student responded to Lahren. “It was about guns. You weren't there, you don't know how it felt. Guns give these disgusting people the ability to kill other human beings. This IS about guns and this is about all the people who had their life abruptly ended because of guns.”

That was just the beginning. Within hours, a number of student survivors decided to channel their grief and anger into activism. They mourned by organizing walkouts and rallies, lobbied for legislation, and pushed for a CNN town hall with Sen. Marco Rubio (R- Florida) and representative for the NRA Dana Loesch.

Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, gave an impassioned speech at the group’s rally in Fort Lauderdale just two days after the shooting. Her speech, which called “BS” on the supposed obstacles standing in the way of the U.S. making progress on gun control, sparked national attention and conversation. “Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this, we call BS,” Gonzalez said. “They say tougher guns laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS...that us kids don't know what we're talking about, that we're too young to understand how the government works. We call BS.”

Gonzalez also emphasized that “the adults have gotten used to saying ‘it is what it is,’ but if us students have learned anything, it’s that if you don’t study, you will fail. And in this case if you actively do nothing, people continually end up dead, so it’s time to start doing something.”

On February 21, Jaclyn Corin, the junior class president at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, organized a trip to Tallahassee to lobby for expansion of gun control laws and to talk with state legislators. Corin told the Tampa Bay Times, “It really needs to be recognised that they need to stop fighting each other and starting working together. This has to be the last school this happens to.” Corin tweeted about three particular legislative acts that she wants supporters to help advocate for: SB 1476 deals with repealing prohibitions on record keeping and reporting of firearm sales and owners; SB 838 instates a three-day waiting period on all firearm purchases; and the third prohibits the sale of assault rifles and large-capacity magazines.

The next show of activism these students have organized is the March For Our Lives, which will be based in Washington D.C., but will also occur in satellite marches all over the country and globe, on March 24. The movement demands that students’ “lives and safety become a priority and that we end gun violence and mass shootings in our schools today.”

We can no longer allow senseless tragedies to occur in the U.S. as a result of negligent gun policies. It is time to stand up and fight for a concrete change. You can find the March For Our Lives mission statement here as well as a march event near you here. Also, be sure to reach out to your representatives and make sure they know that you will not be complicit in these avoidable tragedies any more. We need to make sure gun violence happens #NeverAgain.

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Lauren Davidson
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