It is no mystery that the United States is suffering from a gun violence epidemic. An epidemic that is clearly affecting schools more so than anything else.
There were a total of 17 lives lost on Feb. 14 in the Parkland, Florida shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School. Since 2000, there have been nearly 188 school shootings. And this year alone, there has been 20.
The Parkland shooting was the tip of the iceberg for many people and it has sparked conversation and debate across the nation. More than ever before, students are taking center stage in the discussion and demanding change, working to ensure safety for all people while on school grounds.
On March 24 in Washington, D.C., student survivors from Parkland decided enough was enough and walked in the “March for Our Lives” rally, held just three blocks away from the Capital. Over 800 other marches were planned nationwide in support of the event.
Ten days prior to the nationwide march, Pacific University, along with other colleges and high schools, took part in a 17-minute class walkout to honor the 17 people killed in Parkland. According to the Undergraduate Student Senate President Katie Lightcap, the walkout was done not only to remember the lives taken in Parkland, but to also start conversations on the Forest Grove campus on the issue of guns and gun control.
There has been a student empowerment movement all across the nation, with young voices being heard and listened to by legislators and student leaders coordinating marches and efforts. On April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine High School Shooting in 1999, students across the country once again walked out of classes and protested, saying they planned to turn to political activism if change is not made.
Forest Grove Mayor Peter Truax commented on the current climate, saying the “enough is enough” movement is more evident now than ever before.
“It is unacceptable for 56 people to be killed in Las Vegas, 17 people to be killed in Parkland and for 20 first graders to be killed in Sandy Hook,” Truax said. “Those figures are unacceptable and they ought to be unacceptable for every American, every resident of this country.”
While Truax respects the Second Amendment, he believes there is no reason for an individual to own any sort of assault rifle. According to Truax, there needs to be increased background checks for individuals purchasing guns and a prohibition on high capacity magazines.
City governments carry little weight in terms of controlling gun legislation, and as a result, Truax and his council cannot do much to prevent recurring gun violence in Forest Grove. But, Truax still proposed ideas to students and supporters of gun control for the November elections.
Truax believes supports of gun control need to organize together and pool their money to fund and support candidates that are on their side.
“Organization, positions, a philosophy that is well thought out, and money are all important to any kind of campaign,” Truax said.
Dr. Jim Moore, assistant professor and director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific, said though students are doing a good job in organizing their efforts, he does not see how it changes policy.
“Marches are of the moment, it is wonderful, it gets opinion, it gets coverage, but then you have to take the step to actually make an impact on the political system and a march does not do it,” Moore said. “You got to be registered to vote. And vote. You have got to say ‘here is an actual proposal we want to push with our state legislator or city council,’ that kind of thing works.”
Moore believes that in order for the current gun climate in America to change, students and supporters need to keep marching as well as incorporate political action into their future steps and plans.
One of the nation’s deadliest mass school shootings occurred not long ago in 2015 at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore. Sophomore Sebastian Herr, who is from Roseburg and was a relative to one of the victims of the shooting, said he hopes to see change in gun legislation after the awful experience that weighed heavy on him and his family.
“The state of Oregon has continued to pass gun law legislation that I think can do some good,” Herr said. “Right now, there are two initiatives trying to make the ballot in November that I think are a good start.”
Another student on Pacific’s campus, sophomore Carly Gould said it would be oblivious of individuals not to acknowledge that change is needed in the current climate. Gould said her fellow classmates and peers need to remain active in conversations and continue working to keep important issues relevant.
“With every petition and every peaceful protest, and even with letters written to our local representatives, we are reminding the government that we aren’t backing off this issue,” Gould said. “So many people are aware of the gun violence issue, now more than ever before. Now it is a matter of people willing to put in the effort to make a change.”
Can the Parkland shooting be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? Sandy Hook, Las Vegas and Roseburg all were horrific mass shootings, yet, not one of these events has inspired the fight and push for change like Parkland has had.
Students and people across the country will surely have their eyes on the election this November. It will be an opportunity for real change to happen. For people to speak out and to propose what needs to be done in order to prevent another senseless mass school shooting.
“If young people, even those just turning 18, register to vote and say ‘this is the Holy Grail I am looking for, this is the reason I am going to finally vote,’ then I think we have a chance for some real change,” Truax said.