Commentary

A Year After Parkland, How Students Can Save Us From Ourselves

David Hogg, center, a survivor of the Parkland shooting addresses a rally at the Smith & Wesson headquarters in Springfield, Mass., last August.
David Hogg, center, a survivor of the Parkland shooting addresses a rally at the Smith & Wesson headquarters in Springfield, Mass., last August.
—Steven Senne/AP

Teenagers are a generation defined by mass shootings. And they've earned the right to speak

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More than a month ago, as the calendar quietly turned the page to 2019, comedian Louis Szekely—better known as Louis C.K.—set Twitter ablaze. Leaked audio footage of a recent stand-up performance captured the comedian mocking the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., for their political activism in response to the shooting at their school. But, the conversation in the national media was short-lived.

Why revisit this now? Today marks exactly one year from the Parkland shooting—one of the most devastating mass shootings in American history. Recall, a teenage gunman opened fire. Bullets pierced 34 bodies. Of those 34, 17 people died—14 students and three staff members. It was Valentine's Day. A heinous act of hatred on the day of love.

In the aftermath of the massacre, a number of student survivors took a political stand. Many of them rebuked politicians for what has become a routine offer of thoughts and prayers. They traveled to the halls of Florida’s state capitol and pressed Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led legislature to reform the state’s gun laws. They challenged U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, during a live town hall meeting, to stop taking money from gun lobbyists.

"This generation has been defined by mass shootings on school campuses, and it will take this generation acting strategically, attacking all levels of government, to change things."

"They're testifying in front of Congress, these kids?" C.K. said, adding: "You're not interesting because you went to a high school where kids got shot. Why does that mean I have to listen to you? How does that make you interesting? You didn’t get shot. You pushed some fat kid in the way, and now I have to listen to you talking?"

He couldn't have been more wrong. This generation is not boring. They have every right to tell the older generations what action needs to be taken. In fact, they have much more work to do.

In addition to today's anniversary of the tragedy, this upcoming April 20th will mark 20 years since the mass shooting at Columbine High School. The Columbine shooting had such a big impact in the public imagination that "Columbine" itself became a pop-culture euphemism for a school shooting. And, many more school shootings followed. After Columbine, there were shootings at Virginia Tech, West Nickel Mines School, Red Lake Senior High School, Northern Illinois University, Oikos University, Santa Monica College, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Marshall County High School, Santa Fe High School, and many more. To the extent that mass school shootings are now a dark part of American culture, Columbine marks the inception.

Fairly or not, this generation has been defined by mass shootings on school campuses, and it will take this generation acting strategically, attacking all levels of government, to change things.

There are still lots of state and federal laws that make it much too easy for a child or young adult to access a gun. According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, most states still allow unlicensed gun carry. The vast majority of states have very loose restrictions on the size of magazines that people can legally access. Most centrally related to K-12 schools, the Gun-Free Zones Act of 1990 prohibited guns "within 1,000 feet of schools." We need to push that boundary even further. In fact, we need to use this as statutory footing to begin to get rid of as many guns as possible.

States need to better incorporate anti-gun incentives into accountability standards. We need to do so in a way that does not result in turning schools into prisons. We need staff and counselors that can talk to students formally and informally about guns and violence before tragedy occurs. We need curriculum that engages kids on the dangers of firearms. We need teachers and unions to use bargaining power at the state level to fight for gun restrictions as well.

This also extends to higher education. Colleges and universities are now major players in how cities develop and redevelop. They should be leading these conversations on the ground and demanding zero tolerance on guns in campus vicinities. Open discourse to rid open fire.

They should be incentivizing researchers to develop tools that can help detect and disarm an active shooter, as well as help us determine the social and psychological behaviors that could dissuade kids from wanting a gun in the first place. Use knowledge to overpower weaponry.

All of this begins with empowering and listening to students.

So, instead of criticizing kids for not being "crazy" and "unhinged"—as Louis C.K. jokes—how about we listen to them as they work to make our nation understand that gun reform needs to be rethought of as major education reform? Because if there is one thing that the Parkland survivors know for certain, it's this:

There is no greater immediate threat to a kid's education than another kid with a gun.

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