Last month, the Parkland, Fl., shooting that left 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School marked the third deadly, mass shooting in the United States in less than four months.
But the response after Parkland looked different than the aftermath of past tragedies. Rather than parents and teachers appearing on the news, teenagers—enraged by their vulnerability and empowered by social media—emerged as new leaders of the fight for gun safety. High school students nationwide sparred skillfully with politicians on Twitter and organized rallies, while shooting survivors like Emma Gonzalez gave rousing speeches and met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The resounding message: Be the adults so that we can be the kids. "We shouldn’t be afraid that our school could be the next," says Delaina, 17, a student activist at Piedmont Hills High School in San Jose, Ca.
Today, Delaina and thousands of other students across the country will walk out of classrooms for 17 minutes to commemorate the 17 killed in Parkland and to demand a governmental plan for gun safety that doesn't leave them feeling like targets in their own schools. Here, student leaders tell InStyle why they're walking out.
"A WAR IS HAPPENING IN OUR SCHOOLS" —BROOKE, 17, CALIFORNIA
"Every school in America encourages their students to have school spirit and there are many different ways to express it. We are showing our school spirit by uniting together to evoke desperately needed change and take a stand against gun violence. Too many children and young adults have been slaughtered. If the vicious acts of school shooters cannot force the proper changes to be made in our government and school systems, then the peaceful acts of students across America must.
The political response to school shootings can easily turn into an endless debate about America's Second Amendment rights. Lives are lost every time another shooting happens, while politicians and education officials brainstorm ways to keep their children safe. A war is happening in our schools. Children keep losing their lives in blatant massacres. What more needs to happen to force a peaceful change to protect students? We do not need to give potential school shooters easier access to guns by placing them in the hands of our educators. A violent issue cannot be solved with a violent solution. America needs to make our schools safe again."
—Brooke, 17, senior at Piedmont Hills High School in San Jose, Calif.
"I JUST TURNED 18—OLD ENOUGH TO BUY A LONG GUN BUT NOT OLD ENOUGH TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY" —ELISSA, 18, CONNECTICUT
"I live in Weston, CT, which, is 20 minutes away from Newtown [where the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting took place]. I was in seventh grade at the time, but now I’m a senior. I had 26 students bring in teddy bears to represent the 26 victims of Newtown. I pretty much organized the whole thing from the ground up [and gave a speech:]
There are life-or-death flaws in our system. We walk out of school today to honor the students who never got to walk out. One month ago today, there was a tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. One person with one semi-automatic assault rifle that he never should have been able to get took it upon himself to remove souls from this earth. The bullet of an AR-15 obliterates the human body; unlike the bullet of a handgun whose enter- and exit-wounds are linear and minimal, a shot from a disgustingly powerful weapon is jagged and tears through flesh with no mercy. Nobody ever even stood a chance. I just turned 18 years old—old enough to buy a long gun but not old enough to be taken seriously. Young enough to be shot at school. Who won’t get to experience their first prom? Who won’t get to chant on the bus rides on the way to their sports team’s state game? Who won’t get to sing their son or daughter to sleep as their eyes flutter to a close? Imagine if your chance to live—blast music in your car with your hands out the sun roof, go to college, and have the chance to be someone—imagine if all of that was cut short by a bullet. I call B.S.
These 17 minutes allow [us], the students, to tell our leaders that we do not feel safe in the one place that should not, under any circumstance, be threatened by weapons of any kind, let alone semi-automatic rifles. These 17 minutes allow students everywhere, whether you be Republican or Democrat, to come together and say that enough is enough."
—Elissa, 18, senior as Weston High school in Weston, Conn.
"AN 18-YEAR-OLD SHOULD NOT BE ABLE TO BUY A WEAPON OF WAR" —AVA, 18, FLORIDA
"It was important to me that my school participated in this national walkout because of how close to home it was. I have friends that go to MSD. People would like to ignore us because we are children who apparently don't know any better, but the more people who join this movement the harder it is for people to ignore. I was one of six organizers who put the walkout for our school in motion. It was extremely stressful the days leading up to the walkout because we only got our school to agree to allow us to leave campus on Friday. We planned to walk out with or without their 'permission,' but at the end of the day, we were able to convince them to allow us to participate. It was nice that we came to a peaceful agreement. I wasn't sure how many people would actually come out. I was ecstatic when 280 students signed up, which is over 50% attendance.
I am a firm believer in gun reform. Even before the Parkland shooting, I have been open about my beliefs that the Second Amendment is no longer used in the way our founding fathers intended. However, I do respect our constitution and do not believe that we will ever abolish the Second Amendment. The fact of the matter is we need stricter gun laws. An 18-year-old should not be able to buy a weapon of war but not buy an alcoholic drink. Nobody should be able to buy assault rifles or high-capacity magazines. We need better background checks. Parkland was the perfect example of shooting that could have been prevented had the correct laws been in place. Sadly, this will happen again until Congress decides to pass gun reform laws. I will walk out, protest, vote, and stand in favor of gun reform until then."
—Ava, 18, senior at Miami Country Day School in Miami, Fl.
"I DON'T THINK STUDENTS SHOULD HAVE TO BE AFRAID TO GO TO SCHOOL" —AMANDA, 18, NEW JERSEY
"I feel very strongly about the recent shooting in Parkland and want to support their students as much as I can while being in New Jersey. I don’t think students should have to be afraid to go to school, and parents shouldn’t have to worry about their child’s safety while being there. I was one of the organizers for this event, and had help from my fellow classmates to spread [the] word. We had many meetings with our school administrators to discuss what the best way would be to keep everyone safe while supporting the cause. Many students in the school are interested in supporting the walkout, but many feared going outside at a set time because it could be an easy target. With the help of police presence and the administrators taking extreme caution on March 14, many students began to feel safer to walk out. Our school is supportive of this walkout and wants to keep us as safe as possible."
—Amanda, 18, senior at Somerville High School in Somerville, NJ
"I HAVE HAD TOO MANY CONVERSATIONS WITH FULL-GROWN ADULTS TELLING ME THAT I AM STUPID FOR PLANNING THIS" —LIZZY, 18, ILLINOIS
"What happened in Parkland could have easily happened to us, and we have to stand as a community and say enough is enough. We are honoring those who died and talking about tolerance and kindness as a school because it all starts with us. We are the change. I organized the walkout and took a few people as advisers to help me plan and get the word out. We made a Facebook group dedicated to this event that gained almost 400 members overnight. We want to open up a line of communication about topics swept under the rug like violence, sexual abuse, mental illness, and more. My school has been very supportive. There will always be those parents, teachers, and students who think this is just a pointless excuse to get out of class, but it is anything but that. Thankfully our administration is not punishing students because we have planned it to be peaceful and informative.
Gun safety is an upmost importance in keeping our schools and communities safe. We have had too many close calls with gun violence in the four years I’ve spent at DHS and students are restless and afraid. We have planned an Acts of Kindness Week to try and continue the positive energy about change, past the walkout and into our daily lives. I have had too many conversations with full-grown adults telling me that I am a stupid 'libtard' for planning this and I should 'eat Tide pods.' If those members of the older generation can't set the example for the youth we have to do it ourselves. Hopefully all goes well with the walkout, and students learn that their voices matter and that things need to change."
—Lizzy,18, senior at DeKalb High School in DeKalb, Ill.
"THIS WALKOUT WAS TO SHOW THE GOVERNMENT THAT WE NEED ACTION" —MEGAN, 17, CONNECTICUT
"Earlier in the year, a boy in my school died from a gun shot, and the loss has impacted everyone in my community. Most of Guilford is against gun violence, but there are always some who are not. The Parkland shooting hit home because we know how it feels, and we want to help bring action to our community and others who were pushed to feel broken from gun violence. I participated in our walk[out] because I wanted to help in the movement to stop gun violence and try to make our school safer. For my school, this walkout was to show the government that we need action."
—Megan, 17, senior at Guilford High School in Guilford, Conn.