Due to the most recent incidents of mass shootings in schools my school staged a walkout in protest of gun violence on April 20th. It had been in discussion since the day after the Parkland school shooting. It made me wonder what people thought about the issue of gun violence and protesting, and so I interviewed 41 students and one teacher from across the country to see what they thought before the day of our protest. All were from different political backgrounds and 9 people had at least one gun in their home. Here’s my first hand account of the day and a quick look at some of the interviews.
The protest took place between 10 -10.30. A hush fell over the crowd as a student stepped up to talk and offer a moment of silence for the Columbine children. The girl, a junior, spoke about gun violence in schools and how it is wrong. She encouraged us to take action, and to be passionate about what we believe in. One of the middle schoolers, a sixth grader I recognised as my friend’s sister decided to say something. She believes that we have two choices: ignore and hope for the best, or take action. It’s our future, she said. It’s us who will suffer if we don’t do anything.
More students spoke, each about what they’re passionate about, even an anti-walkout protester who talked about bullying. Many of the organizers said the walkout was a stand for what you believe in, not specifically gun issues, despite the fact that the official Twitter account for the national walkout focuses on gun violence. This made me question people’s reasons for being there. Throughout the day I had heard and saw things that made me believe people did not walk out for what I think are the right reasons. From the beginning I had heard students joking about it, and saying how guns don’t kill, and that American gun control policy was fine. “The walkout makes no sense to me,” one student stated, “What are we changing?” I even heard students who were mostly concerned that their “shirt [was] see through.”
It made me wonder: who was doing this because of the gun issue, and who just wanted time out of class? The organizers said that a lot of people did not do the walkout for the right reasons. I couldn’t be sure that everyone fully understood that the reason we were there was because gun laws need to change. However I found that this wasn’t necessarily true.
Simon is a male student from Texas. He is a liberal with no guns in his home. Like me he thinks that “there should be an increase in background checks and a ban on assault rifles. The gun buying age should be increased, as well as tightening restrictions on gun ownership and written, demonstrative and mental health tests.” I agree. There is no reason why people should be able to obtain military weapons. There should be more background checks to ensure that no one who shouldn’t have a weapon can get a weapon, as well as tests to ensure the holder of the gun knows how to use it.
However, though Simon believed that “we are the future and will be the ones to make change” he didn’t partake in the walkout. He said “I was planning on it, but I have a rehearsal for my play during the class period that takes place during the walkout and can’t miss this rehearsal!” So, maybe some people who did believe that gun laws need to change weren’t willing to protest. In contrast people like Piper – a liberal non binary student from New York with at least one gun in their home – think that protesting is “is very important.” Even though she was yet to get confirmation from her parents to see whether they’d allow her to participate, when I asked about the importance of using our voice she said “we need to show that we are strong and willing to fight for what we believe.”
This is what had been bothering me about the protest at my school. Not everyone who cared about gun laws was protesting, and some people who were protesting didn’t actually think it was important. This walkout was a good way for a lot of students around the country to stand up for what they believe in, and it gave them a voice, but not everybody realised that. Fortunately I am not the only one who thinks that using your voice is important.
Emily is a female student from Kentucky. She is conservative with no guns in her home. She said, “The points we want to make will never get across if we aren’t the ones pushing for the change.” “I am doing [this] because I don’t want gun violence to affect any more schools and their students. I also believe that students should be able to use their voice peacefully and for an important cause such as this. I am doing this so my sister, cousins and future children don’t have to fear for their life at the hands of our government’s ignorance.”
She thinks that “our government should re-evaluate gun protocols and do so in favor of the US, not personal opinion.” The opportunity to use our voice when we may be too young to vote this year shows politicians that “we are done with being swept aside in favor of money” (Piper). We will all be able to vote eventually. Our time is coming, so our opinions matter. We might not be able to vote but that doesn’t mean we are powerless. You have to use the tools you have.
“It’s important for our democratic society for all people to learn to peacefully protest and to intelligently debate their beliefs and let them be known. A democratic government is by the people and for the people. Democracy gives power to each and every citizen to actively participate in the government of the country, so yes, I think it is important for students to peacefully and intelligently use their voice.” – Jane
Jane, a female teacher from my school. She is an independent with at least one gun in her home who supported us protesting. During the walkout a lot of teachers just watched what was going on, but it’s nice to know that some were silently supporting us. They didn’t tell us what to do or try to shut us up. They recognised our power and helped us exercise it.
Our walkout gave a platform for us to listen to kids who are usually ignored. The power of using your voice is demonstrated on small scales, like the anti-protester attracting attention at my school, and larger ones, like national news coverages. We are the ones who will make the future and decisions in the future. We must stand for what we believe in so that we can craft a good future for our children and generations to come.
*I’m a female from Kentucky who doesn’t really label herself as liberal or conservative. There are no guns in my home.
Names have been changed for privacy. Some responses have been altered for grammatical clarity.