Student activism is a sign of a healthy democracy, and in the instance of advocacy regarding school gun violence it is especially necessary to get input from the students who inhabit the spaces that are all too often in the news for dark, tragic reasons.
The showing of students on Wednesday morning in Rhode Island, and across the country, as thousands of students “walked out” of their classrooms and schools to pay tribute to the victims of the Parkland, Fla. shooting and all other acts of gun violence in schools was a powerful statement that the country’s youth are primed and ready to engage in political discourse that directly affects them.
One of the speakers, senior class president from Pilgrim High School in Warwick, Sophia Carter, attended a trip to Washington D.C. along with other students from across the nation to drive home the point that they are sick and tired of going to school in fear, and that they are urging action to be taken to prevent these tragedies from occurring again.
Whether or not you agree with stricter gun control regulations, this engagement from teenagers is exactly what we should see out of our generations of middle school and high school students – especially in an era where fears over legislative apathy have permeated national discourse in recent years.
While nobody – not even the students themselves – are naïve enough to believe that gun violence in America can be solved with one pen stroke, or one piece of legislation, it is not an extreme belief to find something wrong with the number of gun deaths that occur in this country every year, and every day.
According to the online Gun Violence Archive, already in 2018 there have been over 2,800 deaths attributed to guns in America. Of these deaths are 46 mass shootings and 335 accidental deaths. In comparison, only 316 of these deaths are attributed to legitimate acts of self-defense (just 11 percent of the total).
Whether you believe school shootings would be lessened by adding more guns to schools by arming trained teachers, or placing more police officers in schools, or you believe the only way to prevent mass shootings is to create a gun restriction policy so tight that it is next to impossible to obtain a gun, this problem is not going to vanish without effort, simply because we will it to.
The demonstrations by secondary students, in Rhode Island at least, were a good example of balance on both sides. School administrators embraced the students’ desire to stand up and advocate for something – in Pilgrim and Toll Gate High School’s case, the administration opted to allow the students to do the walkout during their advisory period, a homeroom type block between class time – while balancing the need for the students to stay in school and perform the demonstration safely.
The students at Pilgrim, at least, made their voice clear. Enough is enough. They want stricter gun laws, they support Governor Gina Raimondo’s Red Flag policy that will be decided upon by the legislature, they support a ban on assault weapons – they support measures that make it harder to get a gun that can harm large amounts of people.
Gun advocates will not bend to this point of view easily, but perhaps there is a common ground to be shared. In the case of Parkland, specifically, the perpetrator should not have been allowed to purchase a rifle capable of spreading mass carnage, and he should have been on notice with law enforcement due to a past rife with disciplinary issues. In his case, clear signs were missed that may have prevented the ensuing tragedy.
The second amendment is not going anywhere – the gun lobbies and gun manufacturers, as well as everyday, law-abiding citizens who happen to like owning and firing guns safely – will see to that. But we must, as a society, be open to adapting to changing times and circumstances and crafting common sense policies to prevent similar tragedies from occurring as frequently as they inarguably do.
Certain retailers such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart have already made strides to make owning an AR-15 style assault rifle harder to obtain, and are increasing the age required to purchase a firearm. These baby steps are progress towards making owning guns safer and, more importantly, more sensible.
Whether or not you believe this is a slippery slope towards an oppressive government is entirely up to your point of view, but we must keep in mind that the voices of the students – the voices of the upcoming generation of voters and policymakers, are now also making their voices loud, and they should be heard.