Students advocate for gun control despite backlash

Jess Hess, Reporter

After an intense discussion in the FOCUS newsroom, we, as a staff, decided to honor the lives of the 14 students, two teachers and a coach who died in the Parkland shooting on Feb. 14. We respect and remember the other 3,901 people in 2018 who have died from gun violence. So far.

And, finally, we want to include all Americans, everywhere, who have been threatened by gun violence.
This is why we left the front page blank. The empty space represents the void of lost lives, all that could have been, but never will be able to prosper and bloom again. This was a unanimous student-staff decision, made in hope that we will raise awareness to avoid future gun violence.

On average, 318 Americans are injured by gun violence everyday, according to the Brady Campaign, a group hoping to minimize gun-violence deaths. Of those 318, 96 die, and 222 are stuck living with the trauma of gun violence. Forty-six of these people are teens and children.
In Indianapolis on Mar. 24, despite the 9 inches of snow, junior Abby Hoover stood freezing, but hopeful, outside of the State House with a sign which read, “Thoughts and Prayers are not Bulletproof.”

She was advocating for tighter gun regulation and more thorough background checks for gun buyers. She attended March for Our Lives with junior Sydney McGaha and friends from Southport High School. The main march was in Washington, D.C. but more than 800 “sibling” protests occurred worldwide. In Parkland, Florida, where the weather was better, 20,000 people showed. In D.C., 800,000 marched.

“It was really a bonding experience,” Hoover said. “I was talking to the people in line, and the guy in front of me was a teacher from Pike.” The teacher told her he wished more students would get involved in politics.

Hoover agreed with him. “We are the next generation of voters. We are the people up and coming to make the change.”

I planned on attending the Indianapolis march, too, but got snowed in. Instead, I was there in spirit, watching a live Facebook feed. It was heartening to see people joining to support a cause that means so much to me and countless others.

I was among the Perry students who joined the Walk Out on March 14 in front of the school. I have also been calling Indiana senators and representatives and urging other students to make their voices heard.

The Parkland school shooting, and others before it, resonated with me because I remember when Perry went on lockdown in 2015, my freshman year. A man was waving a gun in the PMMS parking lot.

I was afraid that one of my first high school experiences was going to be getting shot or experiencing my friends getting shot.

However, school officials didn’t inform students of what was going on; we simply went on lockdown. I proceeded to spend the next hour in a state of panic, my stomach tied in knots. I was in Mark Deal’s health class, sitting near the window by the door, glancing nervously at the glass. Perhaps trying to calm me, the assistant teacher suggested I move against the wall, but then I realized I was in a corner, stuck with no escape if a shooter entered the room.

I fear that my most vivid high school memory is not going to be prom or commencement. Instead, I will remember sitting against a classroom wall, my heart dropped to my knees, wondering if I’d live until the next day.

After that ordeal, we later found out that the shooter was a Kentucky fugitive fleeing a police chase, and he never tried to harm anybody at the middle school. Instead, he turned his gun on himself.

From then on, I dedicated myself to advocating for gun control. No student should ever have to fear being shot or killed in school or anywhere else. Period.

I believe part of advocacy includes protest and that progress isn’t possible without it. At Perry, about 60 of us walked out. But we had to first have a letter from a parent and then get a school pass. My dad wrote the permission letter reluctantly. He wrote another letter to school officials complaining about the strict rule, arguing students need to learn critical thinking and should have a right to voice their opinions independently.

Despite having followed the rules, I was still slightly nervous of possible repercussions as I walked out. But once outside, it felt incredible to be a part of the movement, even among a small group.

The counter protest to the walkout, called #Walkupnotout, urges students to show more compassion and friendliness to student loners. The hope is that these kids would then be less likely to react with violence toward their peers.

To me, this seems like a way to blame victims for being shot. “No amount of kindness or compassion alone would have changed the person that Nikolas Cruz is and was,” wrote Parkland student survivor Isabelle Robinson in ‘The New York Times.’

“That is a weak excuse for the failures of our school system, our government and our gun laws.”

Perry’s March 14 efforts to remember the victims, and write supportive notes to one another was not wrong. And I believe letters to elected officials can be effective.

Yet I worry these actions aren’t enough. Students should be kind, register to vote and take stands on political issues regardless, not just to avoid being murdered.

“I’ve been bullied a lot, but I’m never going to shoot up a school,” McGaha said. “I think the reason that school shootings happen is that people who are insecure or have bad home lives have access to these guns. Their parents may not be around to teach them that this isn’t a toy.”

The 16-year-old activist isn’t toying around when it comes to gun control. She was determined to get downtown despite the heavy snow and join the thousands of Hoosier protesters circling the State House.

Among all of the protesters, there were also counter protesters—gun control opponents. McGaha saw a man carrying a rifle and pointed him out to Hoover.

“I kind of feared for my life,” Hoover said. “You never know what counter protesters are going to do, nor their intentions.”

What she does know is that actions speak louder than words.

“We can’t get anywhere from thoughts and prayers,” Hoover said. “We get places from action and regulation. The only way to get things done would be to go out, and call your representatives, make a difference, start a protest. Do something tangible.”

I stand with her, and would like to add on that the most important parts of protest are educating yourself and finding what you’re passionate about. Being active in politics is one way to learn how to stand up for yourself; it is vital to be informed in a world of misinformation. Do not allow resistance to make you complicit.