America’s high school students are refusing to be silenced in calls for gun control, galvanized by the school shooting in Parkland, Florida in February that left 14 students and three teachers dead and the bold activism of the surviving students that followed.
At least a thousand students from the Minneapolis and St. Paul metro area descended on the Minnesota State Capitol Wednesday to call for gun control reforms. The walk-out and protest had originally been planned by students at St. Paul Central High School, but snowballed after students from surrounding schools heard about it via social media and decided to join.
“We just started by having conversations about gun control, and having conversations about these school shootings and what we wanted to do about it,” organizer Clare Fitzpatrick, 18, told the Star Tribune. “We’ve received silence from our legislators that can’t pass a bill to help our students, and I think our first priority should be passing legislation that’s going to help save the lives of students.”
The students in Minnesota aren’t the only young people to demonstrate against gun violence this week. On Tuesday, hundreds of teenagers in Baltimore walked out of their classrooms and marched to city hall demanding lawmakers take action on gun violence. Baltimore is a city all-too-familiar with the toll gun violence can take on a daily basis — in 2017, the city reached a new per-capita record for homicides.
As a result, many of the Baltimore students’ demands revolved around preventing a “culture of violence” in the city by establishing social work and counseling services in schools. Others, however, were more general, like a law that would allow judges to temporarily order gun owners who are deemed a danger to themselves and others to surrender their weapons — something Gov. Larry Hogan (R) endorses.
Since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, there has been a renewed national conversation about gun control, driven by teenage activists. Earlier in February, hundreds of students from Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, marched to the U.S. Capitol to demand gun safety reform, and a series of demonstration are planned for March 24.
Unlike the aftermath in previous mass shootings, the conversation around gun control seems to have shifted this time, because the teenagers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have refused to let lawmakers forget about it. Students like Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, and Cameron Kasky have refused to let the issue go away, vociferously demanding action from state legislators, Congress, and the president.
“We can’t ignore the issues of gun control that this tragedy raises,” Kasky wrote in a CNN op-ed. “The students at my school felt one shared experience — our politicians abandoned us by failing to keep guns out of schools.”
Consumer pressure is forcing corporations to abandon their partnership with the National Rifle Association, and several high-profile retailers have stopped selling both assault-style weapons and high capacity magazines. Lawmakers have also begun to introduce legislation that would raise the age limits on buying assault rifles from 18 to 21.
Naturally, there has been plenty of right-wing blowback to calls for gun control. The survivors of the Parkland shooting have been viciously smeared online, and some have received death threats. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, is looking for anything to pin the blame on mass shootings that doesn’t involve gun control, including demonizing mental illness and blaming violent video games.
“The video games, the movies, the internet stuff is so violent. It’s so incredible,” Trump said last week. “I think you maybe have to take a look at it. You know, you rate movies for different things. Maybe you have to also rate them for terror, for what they’re doing and what they’re all about.” Trump has also advocated for the NRA- approved idea of arming teachers, despite the idea being enormously unpopular and with a track record of being ineffective.
“The answer is not arming more teachers and having more security guards,” Minnesota State Rep. Ilhan Omar said at the gun control rally in Minnesota Wednesday. “It’s about making sure that we end a culture that encourages violence and that we put certain protections in place to end gun violence.”