One gun. One shooter. 17 dead. After the tragedy, thousands of voices rose up against the lack of gun control laws, sharing heart-wrenching stories, impassioned speeches, and a sincere plea for change. The most surprising part? Many of those brave voices are high schoolers from around the country, just like us, who are speaking up to prevent further violence.
On Wednesday, February 14, Nikolas Cruz, 19 years old, opened fire on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 14 students, 2 coaches, and 1 teacher with no clear motive. Though Cruz, a former Stoneman Douglas student who had been expelled, was only in the school for a short time, he fired 160 rounds from his AR-15. Those couple of hours were terrifying for students in the school, family and friends outside, and for the entire world, all waiting with bated breath for the Florida victims.
Since 2000, there have been more than 188 school and university shootings in America, according to an article published in The Washington Post, 18 Years of Gun Violence. The Florida massacre in Stoneman Douglas High School is the seventh school shooting of 2018 alone. This shooting is yet another reminder of the pressing threat that guns and their easy accessibility in America poses.
The lack of gun control in America has proved problematic, to say the least, as demonstrated by the astonishing number of mentally disturbed, previously convicted, and young people possessing a firearm. Currently, as declared by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, all American citizens have the right to own a gun, except minors, felons, and those with mental disabilities. Unfortunately, not all citizens can be trusted with such deadly weapons. Though many citizens and activists have been pleading for reform following acts of gun violence, background checks and other gun safety regulations remain inadequate.
In the Florida shooting, Cruz was able to buy and use an assault weapon, even though he was found mentally unstable. Florida State Social Services had actually investigated the shooter just a year before the Florida massacre. They determined that he had many behavioral issues and had demonstrated warning signs of violence, including advertising a Swastika as well as expressing an intent to buy a gun. However state officials did not take his mental state into account. This left Cruz free to purchase his AR-15, which he would use in yet another of America’s deadly gun violence tragedies.
This lack of gun control has led students, adults, and strangers to speak out in support of gun safety. In recent days, Florida students from Stoneman Douglas and other high schools have rallied for change, marched in protests for gun safety, and caused a wave of awareness to sweep across the nation.
Classmates, friends, and even strangers to to the Stoneman Douglas victims have already drawn national attention to their cause through social media and major news sites. David Hogg, the 17 year old student activist from Stoneman Douglas High School, posted footage of the attack and student quotes to news sites, social media platforms, and other digital means.
“We’re children. You guys are the adults… Work together, come over your politics, and get something done,” Hogg said in a CNN interview. And, through The Washington Post, Hogg has one simple message to politicians: “Instead of condolences, give us action. There is something seriously wrong here.” Hogg plans to continue using digital advocacy to inspire Florida politicians to increase gun safety laws, as well as encourage change at a national level.
When survivor Emma González spoke at a Fort Lauderdale anti-gun rally, she went viral, receiving praise from international celebrities like Demi Lovato and drawing attention to the tragedy.
“If you actively do nothing, people continually end up dead, so it’s time to start doing something,” Gonzalez demanded, sparking a roar of applause from the crowd. “They say tougher guns laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS. They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS. They say guns are just tools like knives and are as dangerous as cars. We call BS. They say no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. 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.”
The fight for gun control isn’t going to be easy. With the NRA fighting against strict gun safety regulations and some politicians pointing at the Second Amendment and claiming that unrestricted access to guns is a constitutional right, change can only come through a grueling and long process. After all, America has operated without strict gun control laws for hundreds of years. And though some states, like Massachusetts, increased gun regulations and thus reduced gun violence significantly, others, like Florida, still don’t require a permit or a license to buy or carry guns.
Change needs to happen, just like these students demand. Gun safety needs to be reformed so that students, adults, and the people of America can live safely, happily, without fear of violence. And though the Florida massacre is a tragedy of unspeakable gravity, it marks the beginning of something. The beginning of a national movement for change, for reform, and for lasting peace.
A movement that was begun by kids, no older or more capable than us here at Mason.
It’s time we started fighting, too. On Monday, February 19, Moms Demand Action held a vigil for the victims of the Florida massacre right here at George Mason High School. Hundreds of people from around the community gathered, including Mason students, to show their support for the victims, survivors, and all those impacted, also demanding gun control.
George Mason students and staff have also taken things into their own hands. On March 14, any student who wishes to participate in the National Walkout at 10:00 A.M. in support of the Parkland victims will be encouraged by Mason administration instead of punished. Though staff asks students to walk out towards the football field for safety reasons, they fully support students in protesting the terrible tragedy of the Florida Shooting.
Additionally, Mason students formed the new Students Demand Action club to promote school and gun safety, and connect with other schools on this pressing issue.
“This cause is something that affects everyone. If the government isn’t going to protect us, then students have to stand up for themselves. As a club, we hope to provide opportunities for everyone to take action.” said senior Clara Matton, student leader of the Students Demand Action club. “We’ve already garnered a huge and within the community. We hope to kick off the club in support of March for Our Lives on March 24 in Washington D.C.”
March for Our Lives, on March 24 in D.C., is a student led protest against gun violence. And even if you can’t march with students, the Florida massacre proves one universal, inspiring, and striking truth. Even though we’re just high schoolers, we have the power to demand change, just like the Florida teens, and just like student activists around the world.
It’s time we raised our own voices. It’s time we start fighting for our beliefs. It’s time for change.