Staff Editorial: Gun Control and the Importance of Student Activism

The Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida has shaken the nation in many ways. Once again, the long-standing divisive debate over gun control and the Second Amendment comes back into the spotlight. However, this time, things are different. Grieving survivors of the shooting have taken to the streets to protest, voiced their opinions on multiple traditional and social media platforms and demanded immediate legislative changes. Various walkouts and school shutdowns, not only in Florida but all over the country (Washington D.C., West Virginia, Connecticut, etc.) have led to discussions on not only gun control and gun laws, but also related issues such as mental illness and public school funding. These discussions are of unprecedented width and depth.

Gun violence in the US has never been an isolated issue, especially when the US only accounts for less than 5% of the world’s population, but 31% of the world’s mass shootings. A large number of these shootings occur in supposedly secure educational spaces for adolescents and young adults, including high schools and colleges. Gun advocates have once again offered up solutions such as arming teaching staff with firearms or shifting the focus to mental health issues. However it has been made clear in the last two weeks post-Parkland-shooting that progress has been too slow. The lack of progress is due to an unwillingness to discuss and tighten gun control, which many have contributed to the long-standing connections many national and state-level legislators have with the National Rifle Association (NRA). As a result of the Parkland shooting, various corporations have taken the extra steps to sever ties and partnerships with the NRA; those who haven’t done so, such as FedEx, are in hot water with their customers and the public at large.

One of the more compelling developments after the shooting is that high school students are taking action to see actual changes nationwide. Many victims from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have taken to both social and traditional media platforms to speak out about their experiences and demand changes to be made. These students have been filling the void in activism about gun control that has been left by lawmakers and the adults that are more focused on arming teachers and mental illness.

This activist actions, known as the “Never Again” movement, has gained national momentum when students from Parkland went to the state capital in Tallahassee to advocate for stricter gun-laws. Other students have gained huge followings on Twitter and have used that platform to rally the nation behind gun-control. One survivor, Emma Gonzalez, has recently caught the attention of national media outlets by gaining more followers on Twitter than the NRA. Another student at Stoneman Douglas, Cameron Kasky, has become notable for grilling Florida politician Marco Rubio and his unwillingness to refuse donations from the NRA. David Hogg, a 17-year-old student journalist and another survivor, has used his social media platform to call for a boycott of Florida as a spring break destination, and boycotting school until gun control legislation has been passed.

There are also many protests, strikes and student walkouts that are being planned in the months ahead. These walkouts are also gaining national traction on social media, and are largely being coordinated by the students at Stoneman Douglas. One of these protests is being planned for Apr. 20, on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine School massacre that took place in Colorado. Other walkouts and protests are being staged on local levels in many states and communities across the country.

Many politicians and anti gun-control activists have been critical of these student activists, claiming that they are just robots of a “left-wing agenda” and that some of them were scripted or even paid by liberal media outlets and other liberal activists to say the things they have said. Many have also claimed that the student activists are using this mass shooting as a way to skip school, and attempt to portray these students as lazy or rowdy, rather than heroic or brave.

The surge in student activism is a welcoming trend. However, there is much more to be done. These issues should not be left to be shouldered by high school students alone. Many of the victims of school mass shootings are unable to vote because of their age, and only have the power to speak loud enough to be heard by those who can make significant changes to gun-control in the U.S. As college students, it is our responsibility to stand by our peers and engage in activism with them, just as Lawrentians have been active about issues on and off-campus. It is important to use our voting powers during the upcoming midterm elections to boot out lawmakers that have refused to make changes to gun control after Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Orlando, Las Vegas and now Parkland, and those who have been heavily sponsored by the NRA. It is important to use our own voices on social media to stand by the victims of every school shooting that happens in our country, and educate our friends, family and peers on the importance of common-sense gun regulations.

It is also important to hear from our administration that they will stand in solidarity with these gun-control activists and activists on several other issues that shape our campus political climate. We hope in the near future to see official statements from the Lawrence administration that they will support students who look to change the world rather than remain the way it is. While some members of the administration have expressed on a blogging platform that high school students whom get punished for participating in upcoming strikes and protests will still be welcome applicants at Lawrence, there has been no official word that they will give these students who look forward toward progress and peace a place to continue their education. It would also be important to know that our college stands in solidarity with any students in the Appleton high schools and the surrounding school districts who plan to protest and walkout as well.

The debate on restrictions on firearms should not just resurface only every time a tragedy occurs, and the burden of activism should not fall on the underage victims of such terrible events. Students, as well as the organizations that support them and the public at large, should participate and help keep pressure on legislators in order to prevent mass shootings from occurring.