Students Emphasize Full Scope of Gun Violence in Latest Walkout
By Mark Ossolinski | Apr 23, 2018
Whether the current push for stricter gun control will translate into tangible results at the polls remains an open question. But more than two months since the Parkland shooting, it’s clear that a large swath of America’s youth remains active, engaged, and eager to make their voices heard in November.
Last Friday, for the second time in as many months, teenagers around the country engaged in coordinated school walkouts as they renewed the call for Republicans in Congress to enact stricter gun control measures. The protest, which took place on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting and included students from at least 2,600 schools nationwide, followed closely on the heels of the National School Walkout on March 14 and the broader nationwide March for Our Lives protests on March 24.
In Washington, the student-activists gathered in front of the White House and then marched to the U.S. Capitol, where a number of the walkout leaders spoke about issues facing all victims of gun violence—not just the people who die in school shootings. While longtime gun violence activists have welcomed the recent wave of marches and calls for reform precipitated by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, some have expressed warranted frustration that the current movement only gathered strength in response to a tragedy in a relatively affluent, largely white community. Multiple speakers pointed out that far less attention is paid to the high rates of gun deaths among African Americans, Latinos, and other people of color.
Another speaker, Rosie Silvers, a senior at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Maryland, discussed what she called “the missing dialogue of this movement”: the nearly two-thirds of all gun deaths that are suicides and the high rates of suicide in the LGBT community. “Gun violence, suicide, and the LGBT community are forever intertwined,” Silvers said. Criticizing those political leaders who try to pass off gun violence as primarily a mental health issue, Silvers added, “Every single country around the world suffers from mental illness, but only we suffer from this epidemic of gun violence.”
The students also wanted to send the message that they intend to keep the pressure on politicians into November—still eons away in political terms. Jay Falk, a senior at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia, turned her time at the podium into a de facto voter registration drive. “This is not a moment, it is a movement. You have to keep showing up,” she said, before telling participants to take out their phones and text a hotline that would help them find out how to register to vote. Many people obliged.
Aya Laoufir, a junior at Washington Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia, said she and her peers are confident that the current movement will maintain its momentum. “A lot of us are gonna be turning 18 in the next few months,” she told the Prospect. “I think it’ll make a big difference at the polls.”
Rosie Couture, an eighth-grader at Arlington’s Thomas Jefferson Middle School described the effect that the national conversation about guns has had on her and her peers: “Parkland was a big wakeup call for us,” she said. “I hate to say it, but I was so ignorant about [gun violence] before the Parkland shooting.” While still too young to vote, Couture added that as soon as she turns 18, she “100 percent” intends to in order to make her voice heard.