In wake of more shootings, student activists continue call for change

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LOS ANGELES — While some students, teachers and families are thinking what's next — what's the next lesson, what's the next competition, what's after graduation — others are losing sleep over an increasingly common question: Who's next to die?

This past Thursday, the national Education Writers Association convened a panel of school and community shooting survivors on the University of Southern California campus, including seniors Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. and leaders of the March for Our Lives movement; senior Alex King of the Peace Warriors movement at North Lawndale College Prep High School in Chicago, and junior Jackson Mittleman of the Junior Newtown Action Alliance at Newtown High School in Newtown, Conn. (The full event can be watched online: https://youtu.be/iSInS4NLRLU)

"We shouldn't be living in an America where we learn to accept these things, and they continue to happen," Hogg told an audience of more than 350 journalists and community members, "... because right now, what keeps me up at night is thinking that there is somebody alive right now that will not be alive at this time tomorrow, and has never even thought about gun violence. But everyone around them will have to for the rest of their lives because they don't even know that person is gonna die."

The statement became an eerie prognostication when, less than 24 hours after making those remarks, a shooting killed 10 students and teachers and injured 13 others at Santa Fe High School in Texas. Friday's shooting came just a week after a school resource officer intervened when a 19-year-old opened fired near the Dixon High School auditorium in Illinois where students rehearsed for graduation, and just hours before another school zone shooting took the life of a woman after a graduation ceremony in Clayton County, Georgia.

"It's not something that is going away," Gonzalez said.

"And it's not something that should be insignificant to anyone," said Mittleman.

"A life lost is a life lost," said King.

At King's high school, the shooting deaths don't stop at one incident. They chronically continue to disrupt students' lives. Since September, he said, his Peace Warriors group has consoled some 160 students — about half of the school's population — for their lost of a loved one to gun violence.

He said shootings in Chicago "happen so normally, that everybody normalizes the situation."

King said, "You know it's bad when you're outside and you hear gunshots and you continue to walk, like "oh they shooting again? OK."

But even worse, he said, is that the names of those perished often get forgotten. It's why he and his fellow student panelists say they choose to keep active in lobbying legislators and rallying other young people to not forget.

"I'm here to bring those names back up out of the shadows of Chicago, and not only Chicago, but everywhere," said King.

All the student panelists called for reducing the access of firearms in society, whether to prevent another school shooting or the loss of a life due to domestic violence, suicide or accidental discharge.

"I feel like the increase of owning guns just, like, increases gun violence desensitization. Like everybody becomes numb to it the more guns appear in our society," said Gonzalez. "We have no gun violence prevention. We have no research going to the CDC. ... It's being systematically being pushed off to the side because nobody [who wants a gun] wants to not have a gun."

On Monday, CNN reported that in the United States this year alone, there's an average of one shooting on school grounds per week. According to CNN's research, at least 288 school shootings have occurred in the U.S. since Jan. 1, 2009. For other countries during the same time period, school shootings occur significantly less often, or are reported less. In the same time period, neighboring countries Mexico reported eight incidents and Canada reported two.

It's why this generation, which has grown up with such statistics and such practices as lockdown drills, is using the tools it does possess, like social media and demonstrations, to continue to push for change, so that violence doesn't persist as a norm. Connected by tragedy, these survivors have also found strength in numbers and solidarity.

This summer, while they should be thinking about their next steps in education and enjoying warm weather with friends, they'll be spending time in their communities and on the road hosting community conversations with the public. Their first stop will be on June 15 at St. Sabina Church in Chicago, and continue around tables at community centers throughout the U.S.

Talking about what's happening in people's lives, and the struggles they face "could actually be helpful and save a lot more lives," says King.

"I think I speak for all of us when I say that this isn't just an issue that we care a lot about. This is part of us now," said Mittleman. "When you experience something like this and you take action, you're doing it for the people that aren't here anymore ... and so that people will never again have to experience that ... We're always going to be motivated to galvanize people and ignite youth to speak up."


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