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Florida students rally in front of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in support of gun control on February 21.

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STANDARDS

Common Core: RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.6, RI.6-8.7, RI.6-8.8, SL.6-8.1, SL.6-8.3, W.6-8.1, W.6-8.7

C3 (D2/6-8): Civ.1, Civ.3, Civ.7, Civ.8, Civ.9, Civ.10, Civ.11, Civ.12, Civ.13, His.1, His.3, His.4

NCSS: Individuals, groups, and institutions; Civic ideals and practices

Enjoy this free article courtesy of Junior Scholastic, the Social Studies classroom magazine for grades 6–8.

SPECIAL REPORT

“We’re the Generation That’s Going to End It”

The response to the recent school shooting in Florida has been a surge of activism among students nationwide. Can they change the debate on guns?  

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Huddled in a classroom closet with about 60 other students, Alex Wind listened as bursts of gunfire echoed through the hallways of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Desperate with fear, Alex texted his parents what he thought might be a goodbye: “I think there’s a shooter on campus . . . I love you guys.”

He made it out safely, but 17 people were killed at the school in Parkland, Florida, on February 14. (The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, a former student there, was taken into custody shortly after the attack.) 

Alex Wind was huddled in a classroom closet with about 60 other students. He listened as bursts of gunfire echoed through the hallways of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He was desperate with fear. He texted his parents what he thought might be a goodbye. “I think there’s a shooter on campus . . . I love you guys,” Alex wrote.

He made it out safely. But 17 people were killed at the school in Parkland, Florida, on February 14. (The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was a former student there. He was taken into custody shortly after the attack.)

Alex’s feelings soon turned from grief to anger to determination. At a vigil the day after the shooting, he and his best friend, Cameron Kasky, vowed to do more than just comfort each other and their classmates. They decided to push for stronger gun laws in the United States. 

Within days, the group they formed along with other Stoneman Douglas students had a name—Never Again—and tens of thousands of social media followers. Before long, Alex and his classmates had thrown themselves into staging political rallies, researching the legal framework of gun control (the broad term for regulations on firearms), and giving interviews.

The students have spoken with lawmakers in Florida’s capital, Tallahassee, to press for changes to state laws. They’ve traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress and President Donald Trump. Their activism has inspired other students across the country to follow their lead and conduct rallies, school walkouts, and other protests to draw attention to school safety and gun control. 

“It was incredible to see how something that we started snowballed,” says Alex, a 17-year-old junior. 

Alex’s feelings soon turned from grief to anger to determination. At a vigil the day after the shooting, he and his best friend, Cameron Kasky, made a vow. They promised to do more than just comfort each other and their classmates. They decided to push for stronger gun laws in the United States.

Within days, they formed a group with other Stoneman Douglas students. The group was named Never Again. It soon had tens of thousands of social media followers. Before long, Alex and his classmates had thrown themselves into staging political rallies and researching the legal framework of gun control. (Gun control is the broad term for regulations on firearms.) They were also giving interviews.

The students have spoken with lawmakers in Florida’s capital, Tallahassee, to press for changes to state laws. They have traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress and President Donald Trump. Their activism has inspired other students across the country to follow their lead. Many other students have conducted rallies, school walkouts, and other protests to draw attention to school safety and gun control.

“It was incredible to see how something that we started snowballed,” says Alex, a 17-year-old junior.

Students across the country are demanding action on guns.

But enacting firearm regulations has never been easy. In fact, Congress hasn’t passed meaningful gun reform laws in decades. 

Yet the Parkland teens and their supporters are not giving up. At press time, students, teachers, and administrators across the country were expected to take part in a national school walkout on March 14. And a student-led march on Washington in support of gun control—set for March 24—was expected to draw 500,000 people.    

Matt Bennett of Third Way, a research organization based in the nation’s capital, says the determination of all these young people could have a lasting impact. “If they do remain engaged,” he says, “we could see a sea change in the politics of guns.” 

But enacting firearm regulations has never been easy. In fact, Congress has not passed meaningful gun reform laws in decades.

Yet the Parkland teens and their supporters are not giving up. At press time, students, teachers, and administrators across the country were expected to take part in a national school walkout on March 14. And a student-led march on Washington in support of gun control was expected to draw 500,000 people on March 24.

Matt Bennett works for Third Way, a research organization based in the nation’s capital. He says the determination of all these young people could have a lasting impact. “If they do remain engaged,” he says, “we could see a sea change in the politics of guns.”

A National Movement

Today’s teens have grown up in a world reshaped by school shootings. That includes the 1999 attack at Columbine High School in Colorado, in which two teens killed 13 people, and the 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, in which a former student fatally shot 20 children and 6 adults. 

Unlike previous generations, young people today have spent years practicing active-shooter drills. They’ve wondered whether a shooting could happen at their school, and who might do it.

So for many of the Parkland students, the response in the aftermath of the attack wasn’t so much shock as a desire to take action. Practically overnight, they went from typical teens focused on friends and homework to dedicated political activists. Their poise and determination have earned them access to the president and Congress—and the attention of the nation.

Today’s teens have grown up in a world reshaped by school shootings. That includes the 1999 attack at Columbine High School in Colorado. There, two teens killed 13 people. It also includes the 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. At Sandy Hook, a former student fatally shot 20 children and 6 adults.

Unlike previous generations, young people today have spent years practicing active-shooter drills. They have wondered whether a shooting could happen at their school. And they have wondered who might do it.

So for many of the Parkland students, the response in the aftermath of the attack was not really shock. It was a desire to take action. Practically overnight, they went from typical teens focused on friends and homework to dedicated political activists. Their composure and determination have earned them access to the president and Congress. And they have captured the attention of the nation.

“We’re seeing lots and lots of students . . . standing up and taking action.”

Parkland senior Emma González—one of the leaders of Never Again—became an overnight celebrity after her impassioned speech about guns went viral (see “Faces of the Movement” sidebar, below). The 18-year-old didn’t even have a Twitter account until two days after the shooting at her school. Now she has more than 1 million followers.

That visibility has led thousands of other students across the country to take up the cause. 

“We’re seeing lots and lots of students who weren’t directly impacted by this standing up and taking action,” says Angus Johnston, a professor at Hostos Community College in New York City. “It’s merging into a national movement.” 

One of the students inspired to get involved is Caroline Kassir, 18, who helped lead a walkout at her high school in Arlington, Virginia.

“There’s something about seeing people your age standing up and making speeches and fighting for change that makes you feel like you can do it too,” says Caroline. “This is a personal issue for everyone. It could be any of us.”

Parkland senior Emma González is one of the leaders of Never Again. She became an overnight celebrity after her impassioned speech about guns went viral (see “Faces of the Movement” sidebar, below). The 18-year-old did not even have a Twitter account until two days after the shooting at her school. Now she has more than 1 million followers.

That visibility has led thousands of other students across the country to take up the cause.

“We’re seeing lots and lots of students who weren’t directly impacted by this standing up and taking action,” says Angus Johnston. He is a professor at Hostos Community College in New York City. “It’s merging into a national movement,” he says.

One of the students inspired to get involved is Caroline Kassir, 18. She helped lead a walkout at her high school in Arlington, Virginia.

“There’s something about seeing people your age standing up and making speeches and fighting for change that makes you feel like you can do it too,” says Caroline. “This is a personal issue for everyone. It could be any of us.”

Tough Fight Ahead

Despite the students’ passion, convincing lawmakers to enact stricter gun control measures will be an uphill battle. One major challenge is that Americans are so divided on the issue. Following the Stoneman Douglas shooting, a Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 68 percent of registered voters in the U.S. favored tougher gun laws, while 25 percent opposed more regulations. 

Those in favor of gun control—generally Democrats and people in cities—say the more Americans who carry weapons, the more likely it is that someone will use one to kill innocent people. They cite figures that equate high rates of gun ownership with more gun violence. 

Meanwhile, gun rights advocates—generally Republicans and people in rural areas—see possession of firearms as a matter of individual rights. They say the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives Americans the right to own guns and that weapons make the country safer by giving more people the power to defend themselves. 

Despite the students’ passion, convincing lawmakers to enact stricter gun control measures will be an uphill battle. One major challenge is that Americans are so divided on the issue. Following the Stoneman Douglas shooting, a Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 68 percent of registered voters in the U.S. favored tougher gun laws. Meanwhile, 25 percent opposed more regulations.

Those in favor of gun control are generally Democrats and people in cities. They say the more Americans who carry weapons, the more likely it is that someone will use one to kill innocent people. They quote figures that equate high rates of gun ownership with more gun violence.

Meanwhile, gun rights supporters see having firearms as a matter of individual rights. They are generally Republicans and people in rural areas. They say the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives Americans the right to own guns. They also say that weapons make the country safer by giving more people the power to defend themselves.

 

Gun Laws by State

This map shows which states ban assault weapons and/or require additional background checks beyond what is already required by federal law.*

Jim McMahon/Mapman®

With that in mind, some states have taken steps to loosen gun restrictions in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting. A number of lawmakers and President Trump have also suggested that some teachers be armed as a way to deter shooters and protect students. 

Another factor is the National Rifle Association (NRA), the powerful lobbying group that’s adamantly opposed to restrictions on gun ownership. For many lawmakers in Washington, the NRA’s stamp of approval—and in some cases its financial backing—is critical to getting reelected.

That’s partly why Bennett of Third Way believes the odds are stacked against the Parkland teens—at least in the immediate future. Days after the shooting, the Florida state legislature voted against discussing a ban on assault weapons like the one used in the attack. The vote left some of the students in tears. 

“The big question is how long will young people remain engaged on this issue if they’re frustrated by what happens in the short term,” Bennett says. “Because they’re probably going to be.”

With that in mind, some states have taken steps to loosen gun restrictions in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting. A number of lawmakers and President Trump have also suggested that some teachers be armed as a way to deter shooters and protect students.

Another factor is the National Rifle Association (NRA), a powerful lobbying group. It is strongly opposed to restrictions on gun ownership. For many lawmakers in Washington, the NRA’s stamp of approval is critical to getting reelected. In some cases, the NRA’s financial backing is also crucial for reelection.

That is partly why Bennett of Third Way believes the odds are stacked against the Parkland teens—at least in the near future. Days after the shooting, the Florida state legislature voted against discussing a ban on assault weapons like the one used in the attack. The vote left some of the students in tears.

“The big question is how long will young people remain engaged on this issue if they’re frustrated by what happens in the short term,” Bennett says. “Because they’re probably going to be.”

Major Achievements  

Already, though, the Parkland teens have made some progress. In the aftermath of the shooting, for example, a number of states have moved to enact gun control measures. Lawmakers in Florida recently passed a bill raising the minimum age for buying guns from 18 to 21 and imposing a three-day waiting period on all gun purchases, among other restrictions. If signed into law, it would be the first gun control measure in Florida in more than 20 years.

Some retailers have also taken steps to limit the sale of firearms. Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart recently announced that they would raise their minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21. 

President Trump has also expressed a willingness to support comprehensive gun reform. In a meeting with lawmakers two weeks after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas, Trump said, “It’s time that a president stepped up.”

In addition, experts note that the Parkland teens have been able to publicly hold politicians accountable in a way that few adults have. 

In a televised town hall meeting, Cameron Kasky, a Stoneman Douglas junior, challenged U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who opposes many gun control measures: “Senator Rubio, can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA in the future?” (Rubio didn’t directly answer the question, but pledged his support for the Second Amendment and for students’ right to feel safe at school.) 

But the Parkland teens have already made some progress. In the aftermath of the shooting, a number of states have moved to pass gun control measures. Lawmakers in Florida recently passed a bill raising the minimum age for buying guns from 18 to 21. It also set a three-day waiting period on all gun purchases, and set other restrictions. If signed into law, this bill would be the first gun control measure in Florida in more than 20 years.

Some retailers have also taken steps to limit the sale of firearms. Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart recently announced that they would raise their minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21.

President Trump has also expressed a willingness to support wide-ranging gun reform. In a meeting with lawmakers two weeks after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas, Trump said, “It’s time that a president stepped up.”

In addition, experts note that the Parkland teens have been able to publicly hold politicians accountable in a way that few adults have.

In a televised town hall meeting, Cameron Kasky, a Stoneman Douglas junior, challenged U.S. Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio is a Florida Republican who opposes many gun control measures. “Senator Rubio, can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA in the future?” Cameron asked. (Rubio did not directly answer the question. But he pledged his support for the Second Amendment and for students’ right to feel safe at school.)

Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/Sipa via AP Images

Teens lie in front of the White House as if they’re dead bodies on February 19, calling for action on gun control.

Tragedy Into Action

Yet even as they raise millions of dollars and plan nationwide rallies, the young survivors of the Parkland massacre are struggling with the trauma they’ve lived through. 

“There are times where I just want to cry,” says Ashley Turner, a senior. 

Many students say their activism is helping them grieve by giving some purpose to the senseless killings of their friends. They plan to keep pressing politicians on this issue in the months ahead. Many of them are already eligible to vote or are on the cusp of being able to. 

“I guarantee you this will drive up the turnout rate among young people,” says Bennett, referring to the congressional elections in November. “This is about as galvanizing an issue as there can be: You are unsafe in your school.” 

That’s what Caroline, the student organizer from Arlington, Virginia, is counting on. And she’s determined to be part of that change. 

“We’ve seen so many shootings,” she says. “We’re the generation that’s had to grow up with this, but I truly believe that we’re the generation that’s going to end it.” 

Additional reporting by The New York Times

The young survivors of the Parkland massacre are raising millions of dollars and planning nationwide rallies. But they are also struggling with the trauma they’ve lived through.

“There are times where I just want to cry,” says Ashley Turner, a senior.

Many students say their activism is helping them grieve. It is giving some purpose to the senseless killings of their friends. They plan to keep pressing politicians on this issue in the months ahead. Many of them are already eligible to vote or are close to being able to.

“I guarantee you this will drive up the turnout rate among young people,” says Bennett. He is referring to the congressional elections in November. “This is about as galvanizing an issue as there can be: You are unsafe in your school.”

That is what Caroline, the student organizer from Arlington, Virginia, is counting on. And she is determined to be part of that change.

“We’ve seen so many shootings,” she says. “We’re the generation that’s had to grow up with this, but I truly believe that we’re the generation that’s going to end it.”

Additional reporting by The New York Times

CORE QUESTION: Why is it so difficult for the U.S. to address gun violence? Can student activism make a difference? Explain.

Don’t Let My Friends’ Deaths Be in Vain

Christine Yared, a 15-year-old freshman at Stoneman Douglas, wrote this opinion essay days after a gunman opened fire at her school.

Saul Martinez/The New York Times/Redux