Students Protest Against Gun Violence

Students across the country walk out of class in an effort to demand stricter gun laws.

AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Students at James Ferris High School in Jersey City, New Jersey, take part in the National School Walkout on March 14, 2018.

On Wednesday, March 14, tens of thousands of students stood up and walked out of classrooms across the United States. They were participating in the National School Walkout, a demonstration to protest gun violence and demand new gun control measures. The first protests started at 10 a.m. Eastern time. Other students across the country walked out of their classrooms at 10 a.m. in their local time zones.

The walkouts marked the one-month anniversary of a shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. On February 14, a 19-year-old former student attacked students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He killed 14 students and 3 adults before he was caught and arrested. Wednesday’s protests lasted 17 minutes—one minute of remembrance for each of the 17 people who died in Parkland.

Each year, more than 30,000 people are killed by guns in the United States. Some of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history, including the one in Parkland, have taken place within the last year. Americans across the country are calling on their leaders to do more to stop gun violence.

Some of the loudest activists have been students from Stoneman Douglas. They’ve held rallies, given TV interviews, and spread their message on social media. Students are inspiring other teens and many adults across the country to join them in protesting gun violence.

“Students don’t get to voice their opinion very often, and it’s thrilling to be one of the millions across the United States who will have that option,” Katie Cummins told The New York Times. She is a high school student in Louisville, Kentucky, who participated in Wednesday’s walkout. “The students at Stoneman Douglas who have spoken out and become activists are incredibly inspiring.”

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Students walk out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, as part of a nationwide protest against gun violence on March 14, 2018.

The Debate Over Guns

The tragedy in Parkland has renewed a long-standing debate about gun laws in the U.S. The debate largely focuses on who is allowed to buy guns and what kinds can be sold.

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution addresses the right to “bear arms”—that is, to own guns (also called firearms). But more than 200 years after the Second Amendment was written, Americans still don’t agree about what that phrase means. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects a person’s right to keep a loaded firearm for self-defense.

Today, the U.S. has more guns than any other country in the world. People own guns for hunting, shooting targets for sport, and self-defense.

Congress can pass bills that set limits on who can own guns, as well the types of guns they can own and where they can carry them. The president can sign those bills into law. States also can pass their own laws related to guns. The effort to have stricter gun laws is called gun control.

The demand for tougher gun control laws has grown stronger since the Parkland shooting. Some of the focus has been on the type of weapon that was used. The shooter used a powerful rifle that was originally developed for the U.S. military. This and similar military-style rifles are legal in most states, including Florida. But they’re banned in seven states—including New York and California—and in Washington, D.C. Gun control advocates are calling for a federal ban on these types of weapons.

Public-opinion polls show that most Americans favor more gun control measures. For example, 66 percent of Americans favor tighter gun laws, according to a poll conducted last month by Quinnipiac University.

But opponents say stricter gun laws would limit the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. They argue that firearms make the country safer by giving people the power to defend themselves.

With that in mind, some states are discussing ways to loosen gun restrictions after the Parkland tragedy. For example, a number of lawmakers, as well as President Donald Trump, support the idea of training teachers to use guns in an effort to prevent future shootings.

“If you had a teacher who was adept with the firearm, they could end the attack very quickly,” President Trump said during a meeting with school-shooting survivors at the White House.

But many teachers disagree. “We need to be preparing our lessons, not learning how to reload a gun,” Michael Mulgrew said in a statement. He is the president of the United Federation of Teachers, which represents nearly 200,000 teachers and other staff members in New York City public schools.

More Protests Planned

Teens across the country have been taking action to urge lawmakers to change America’s gun laws. Students from Stoneman Douglas and other schools recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress and President Donald Trump. They discussed different ways that lawmakers could change gun laws to make them safer.

The students have already seen some success. On March 9, lawmakers in Florida passed a new law that raises the minimum age to buy guns in the state from 18 to 21. The nation’s biggest gun seller, Walmart, and major retail store, Dick’s Sporting Goods, have also announced that they will stop selling guns to people younger than 21. Dick’s will also stop selling military-style guns like the one used in the Parkland shooting  (Walmart stopped selling these types of guns in 2015).

But the students have showed no signs of slowing down their protests. The National School Walkout is just one demonstration set to take place this month. Hundreds of thousands of students and other gun control supporters are also expected to participate in the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., March 24. 

While thousands of students walked out of school on Wednesday, not everyone supported their decision to protest. Administrators at some schools didn’t allow students to participate. Others, concerned for kids’ safety, held in-school assemblies and demonstrations at the time of the walkout. 

Seventh-grader Bella Graham walked out of class at her middle school in Takoma Park, Maryland, on Wednesday. She says it’s important that students’ voices be heard, especially when it comes to gun violence. 

“I should be in school, but we have to stick up for ourselves and say enough is enough of this violence," she told USA Today

1. What was the purpose of the National School Walkout?

2. How has the activism of students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School affected the national conversation about gun laws?

3. What is gun control?

4. According to the article, what are some arguments against gun-control laws?

5. What successes have student gun-control activists already seen? What obstacles might they face?

6. Seventh-grader Bella Graham says it’s important that students’ voices be heard, especially when it comes to gun violence. Do you agree? Why or why not?

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