Students join in nationwide protests aimed at reforming gun control laws

Kaitlin Lewis | Staff Writer

Asia Porter | Editor-in-Chief

Age is nothing but a number to these student activists.

Students nationwide have been channeling their frustration into political activism after 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) in Parkland, Florida were shot and killed. The Valentine’s Day shooting marked the fifth school shooting to occur in 2018. News and social media blew up, keeping users updated on the conditioned of those critically injured and the rising death toll.

In response to the Parkland shooting, students across the nation started speaking up about their views on gun reform, and many are taking further action than sharing their opinion online.

One movement was prompted by the Women’s March Youth EMPOWER group, who called for students, teachers, and administrators to participate in a national walk-out on March 14 at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes, in commemoration of the 17 lives lost at the hands of the Parkland shooter. Interested in participating, Senior Kaleb Jegol set out a message asking for any Mason student who would like to join him in organizing a walkout for Mason High School. The board behind organizing is now made up of several students, freshman to senior, along with others not on the board to help with the production and spreading the word. Senior Ivan Mercado is among the board of students who reached out to Jegol to help with the walk out.

“Before, I didn’t know how to get involved, so when I saw the opportunity from Kaleb, I was like, ‘Why not?’” Mercado said. “I was just tired of seeing the same thing happen over and over again, and there was nobody doing anything it was just ‘thoughts and prayers thoughts and prayers.’ It was starting to annoy me that there was nothing I thought I could do myself that would make an impact.”

This mindset of being too young to make a difference, however, is gradually being proven to be nothing more than that, a mindset, rather than fact.

Junior Annabella Collins said her primary inspiration to get involved was the testimony by Gonzalez, a senior at MSD who has not shied away from vocalizing her sentiments about the need for gun control.

“I watched her video and what she had to say, and it really inspired me because it made me realize that us the youth can really do a lot,” Collins said. “I never really put it that way with all the other shootings because Sandy Hook, we were young, but after watching her and the big impact she had on everyone, it made me realize that we really can make a difference and change people’s minds.”

Survivors of the shooting were not hesitant to act on their opinions and feelings after the Parkland shooting. Vocal leaders, like Gonzalez, encouraged students that their voice is not overlooked or unheard, like junior Zara Kabir.

“Usually you see parents take on that role, but this time around you saw the students,” said Kabir. “They were angry, they were wanting change in Congress, and seeing that take root in Parkland inspired the movements for students across the nation to follow their lead and demand change.”

On March 14, Mason High School joined schools across America in a walkout designed to get Congress to take action on gun reform laws. Walking out, however, does not equate progress, as noted by senior Jillian Finkel who said voter registrations and educating voters on all proposed solutions is key to channeling frustration into action.

“The last thing we want is for the walkout to be students walking out then walking back in, feeling like they haven’t (been able) to advocate whatever cause they feel best meets the needs of gun violence prevention,” Finkel said. “Beyond just registering them, we want to make sure they know what the issues are and what they’re going to voting for. That way, they have this idea of gun violence prevention fresh in their brain, not just in the initial aftershock of tragedy, but going forward.”

The walkout took place in the new gym, where students guided other students during the event. For the 17 minutes of the walkout, students who participated were read a poem from a victim of the Parkland shooting, heard from a fellow Mason student junior Nathalie Schickendantz, whose brother is a survivor of the Sandy Hook shooting back in 2012, and were given a brief list of the bipartisan bills currently in Congress. Much of the emphasis was focused on encouraging students to vote this fall, and voter registration booths were available during all lunch bells on Wednesday.

In the evening, events continued, and speakers were invited to MHS to help educate students on the topic. The three speakers included Michelle Mueller, a member of the single-issue group Moms Demand Action, Ethel Guttenberg, who lost her granddaughter during the Parkland shooting, and Aftab Purvea, who is running for Congress in the district. Jegol and the board behind the walkout hope the speakers can help to emphasis the importance of youth leadership and activism.

“We hope that the speakers will spark more civic engagement and will create more dialogue within our community,” said Jegol. “The issue is an issue that not only transcends, but also overlaps, into race, geography, culture, etc. This shouldn’t be an issue that tears us apart, rather, bring us together.

Kabir said the tragedy in Parkland and the resulting call to action serves as an example for her generation that there is a world beyond the bubble of high school.

“I’ve always been into politics, and I get strong opinions on certain things, and then, I get mad when I can’t do anything about them because I’m a young person,” Kabir said. “I’m always like, ‘Okay just wait until I’m 18 when I can start voting and start advocating for certain reforms,’ but what this shows young people is that you don’t have to wait until you’re 18 to actually make a change in your world. A lot of young people get thrown into this cycle of you get up, you go to school, you go home, you do homework, you go to sleep, and you don’t think about the outside world. But there’s life outside that impacts you indirectly or directly, and you can do something about it.”