Grasping her speech notes in her right hand and visibly fighting back tears, Emma Gonzalez stood before a gun control rally in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“Every single person up here today, all these people should be home grieving. But instead we are up here standing together because, if all our government and President can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see,” Gonzalez said as she shouted into the microphones surrounding the podium.
As a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Gonzalez was witness to the shooting that killed 17 people, including faculty and students, on Wednesday, Feb. 14, according to CNN.
MSDHS students and other teens across the country are joining forces to protest Congress and the National Rifle Association for their inaction on preventing school shootings.
According to police records, Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old former student, entered the school with a duffle bag and a rifle and shot into four classrooms. Moving onto the second floor, Cruz shot into one classroom and on the third floor, he left the rifle and fled the building with the evacuating students. At 3:41 p.m., he was apprehended by the Coconut Creek Police Department and charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder on Feb. 15.
When Austin Hudson, senior math education major, heard about the shooting, he was saddened. “It’s hard to process so many things in such a short amount of time that it’s kind of hard to know what to do with it. Obviously, I was shocked and sad, and I can’t even imagine what it would be like going to school and realizing that your son or daughter won’t be coming back. I never once have worried about that here or any school I’ve been to,” Hudson said.
After describing the ease of buying a semi-automatic weapon in Florida and the history of mass shootings in America, Gonzalez’s speech quickly turned to addressing President Donald Trump’s funding from the NRA.
“Thirty million dollars. And divided by the number of gunshot victims in the United States in the one and one-half months in 2018 alone, that comes out to being $5,800. Is that how much these people are worth to you, Trump?” Gonzalez said. “If you don’t do anything to prevent this from continuing to occur, that number of gunshot victims will go up and the number that they are worth will go down. And we will be worthless to you. To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you.”
Now This Is News, an online video news outlet, approached NRA-backed members of Congress and asked, “Do you have anything besides thoughts and prayers? Any solutions at all for this gun violence?”
As she quickly stepped into an elevator, Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn said, “We are so concerned about those precious children and families.” Rep. Blackburn accepted $4,500 from the NRA.
Florida Rep. Ron Desantis, while walking away from a reporter, said, “I mean, praying for people, I don’t think you should diminish that.” When asked if he had any practical solutions, Desantis said, “Yeah, I do, and I’ll do that at the appropriate time.” Rep. Desantis accepted $2,000 from the NRA.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students entered the state capitol, on Wednesday, Feb. 21, to convince lawmakers to ban semi-automatic rifles, according to The Chicago Tribune. Their hope for this ban was taken off the table the day before in the House.
On Friday, Feb. 23, Gov. Rick Scott announced plans to ban firearm sales to anyone under 21, have a trained officer at every school and one for every 1,000 students at larger schools, and increasing restrictions on purchasing or possessing guns for those who are mentally ill, according to the Associated Press.
“The best-case scenario is we move a step forward and that’s all we’re asking here. We’re asking to help save student lives,” Diego Pfeiffer, a senior MSDHS student, said. “Whether it’s funding or mental health or gun safety or any of that sort of stuff — I am pro any of that.”
Across the United States, high school students have staged walk-outs during class time to show support for the Florida victims and protestors, according to The Battle Creek Enquirer. “We never know what school could be next, but we want the government to understand that we want a safer environment in schools,” Destiny Whipple said, a freshman who joined Harper Creek High School’s walk-out in Battle Creek, Michigan.
On March 24th, March for Our Lives Bentonville, part of a nationally organized march, plans to meet at the Bentonville Square. They encourage attendants to “bring signs and show resistance to a Congress who is standing by while children are dying,” according to the event’s Facebook page.
A national high school walkout is planned for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting, according the event’s Change.org page. The campaign encourages participants to “[w]alk out of school, wear orange and protest online and in your communities.”
Jacob Wakefield, a junior at Siloam Springs High School, believes that, while the assault rifle ban was vetoed, the protests have gotten the attention of nation and Congress. “So maybe not right away but eventually throughout, if enough time is taken and enough people join in the protests, maybe Congress or the Senate will be able to realize that, because so many people are involved, that there’s really an issue with it and that they actually need to take a stand and do something about it,” Wakefield said.
However, Wakefield argues that gun control legislation won’t solve every problem. “It’s just like Prohibition in the ‘20s,” he said. “People will find a way to get what they want. Same thing with drugs and marijuana and all this other illegal stuff. People, no matter what the laws are, will do what they want and will find a way.”
Daniel Marroquin, sophomore social studies major, disagrees with Wakefield and believes that stronger gun control could prevent another tragedy. “Placing restrictions, if it’s necessary, is important. It’s not only the age difference or if you can afford to have a firearm. There should be some psychological testing involved as well because as a dealer at a pawn shop, you don’t know who you’re selling the gun to exactly. Yeah, you have their address, how old they are, but you don’t truly know who they are. You don’t know what they’re capable of,” Marroquin said.
Stressing that the students’ voices should be respected, Hudson said, “One thing that I fear is a growing hatred towards older adults and towards the current legislation from students because I don’t see there being any effective longstanding change taking place with each side hating each other or each side blaming the other side.”
Ashli Yazza is a secondary English teacher at Benton High School in Benton, Arkansas where they have regular active shooter drills. She hopes that unity comes from this heartbreaking situation.
“I hope that people will stop pointing their finger at someone else. I hope that people will stop waiting on the government to keep this from happening again. I hope that people will recognize that they can make a difference this very second. I hope that people realize they can show this broken world peace, love, and acceptance through their actions and words to the people they interact with daily,” Yazza said.