Across the country, high school students have embraced protest following the recent shootings in Parkland, Florida where 17 victims were killed by a lone gunman. Since the Columbine Tragedy in 1997, the worst high school massacre to occur before the recent Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, gun violence in schools has become a part of life. Students have become accustomed to “active shooter drills” during the school day. The threat of a massacre always looms in public areas. American politicians have failed to act in the convening years, and the victims of these crimes, the students, have taken the call to action.
The recent “walk-outs” have occurred in response to a perceived inaction from the American government. The protests, organized by high school students inspired by the activism of their peers at Stoneman Douglas High School, were scheduled for exactly one month following the tragedy at Parkland, to both commemorate the lives lost and demand action in the form of gun legislation. Protests ranged from being strictly apolitical memorials for the lives lost, while other high schools took radical action to call for immediate gun control.
These protests seemed to signal a massive shift in political activism among students. As many commentators have correctly noted, the protestors are a clear example of “Gen Z” stepping up and taking action when adults of society refuse to do so.
History has a long pattern of the youth rising up against their government. While it is difficult to compare the modern protests with those opposing the Vietnam War in the middle of the twentieth century, both movements have, at their core, a sense of deep dissatisfaction with the feeling of powerlessness, particularly when lives are on the line.
Many Americans have been quick to criticize and generalize the “walk-outs.” Fox News’ Tucker Carlson ’92 was one of the several voices to speak out against the high school protests, asking his viewers: “If they’re too young to buy guns, why should they be making my gun laws?” Daily Show host Trevor Noah was quick to respond to the Trinity alum’s comment on his own show, accurately remarking that “If kids are old enough to be shot, they are old enough to have an opinion about being shot.”
In addition, conservatives and other political figures have argued for high school students to “walk up, not out.” This statement is meant to directly challenge the protests.
The argument lies on the idea that school shooters are largely a product of experiencing bullying at school. The ideology encourages students to reach out to the “outcasts” at their school, instead of protesting current gun laws. It seems to correlate to the pro-gun argument that “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” The ideology has been criticized by many, who believe that the “walk-up” argument is an example of victim-blaming, arguing that the students who have been murdered by school shooters are partly to blame for inciting anger in the gunmen.
Today, it is difficult to tell whether the protests following the Parkland shooting will continue its momentum. A recent bill advocating “common sense gun laws” was rejected in Florida. However, the students continue to protest and gun laws has experienced significant debate in ways not seen before. Around the country, Americans should be applauding this young generation for taking a stand and fighting for what they believe in, even when faced with significant criticism.