Local students rally, organize for gun control in wake of Florida shooting

Date Published: 
February 25, 2018
Author: 
Christopher Gavin

For Amelia Marceau, gun control is personal.

In 2000, her Uncle Paul, 36, was killed the day after Christmas by Michael McDermott, who opened fire and killed seven of his co-workers at Edgewater Technology in Wakefield.

Marceau, only a year old when it happened, is now 18 and a senior student at the Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School in Marlborough.

In that time, laws eased on the national level and have done little to prevent similar mass shootings, she said.

McDermott used a 12-gauge shotgun, a .32-caliber pistol and an AK-47 assault rifle. The latter is similar to the AR-15 firearm used by Nikolas Cruz to murder 14 students and three teachers Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, she said.

The recent tragedy, fueling a national debate over what lawmakers can do to prevent similar incidents, has created a buzz among her friends.

“Everyone is talking about it,” said Marceau, who is helping to organize a schoolwide walkout next month to remember the victims and demand stricter gun laws from Congress. “I think it’s kids starting to realize that these are things that could happen at our school.

“That shouldn’t be something that’s on teenagers’ minds. That’s something adults should worry about.”

Perhaps once reserved primarily for left-leaning lawmakers, passionate advocates and families of gun violence victims, the fervor surrounding conversations on gun control has poured over to the nation’s youngest generation - and it’s taking action.

 

On the federal level, assault rifles were outlawed in the United States from 1994 until 2004, when Congress failed to renew the ban. Local gun laws vary from state to state. In Massachusetts, specific makes of assault rifles were banned in 1998; the ban was extended in 2015 to include copies or duplicates of the illegal assault weapons. The change was made in the wake of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Survivors of the Florida school shooting, who are teenagers themselves, gave new voice to the issue in recent days, captivating and encouraging their peers across the country to join them in demanding change on Capitol Hill.

Students in at least four high schools in the MetroWest and Milford area are mobilizing their classmates to walk out of school on March 14 in solidarity with schools across the United States.

A separate event, the “March for Our Lives,” drew activists from across the region to Boston Saturday.

An additional march is planned in Washington, D.C., on March 24 and another nationwide school walkout is scheduled for April 20.

“I should not have to fear for my life when I enter my school or decide to go see a movie with my friends, and I would not have that fear if this country had gun control laws that would prevent average citizens from owning guns like AR-15s,” Bekah Redwine, 17, a senior at Franklin High School, said in an email. She is organizing a March 14 walkout at her school.

Each of the demonstrations is expected to start at 10 a.m. and last 17 minutes - symbolic of the number of those killed in the most recent mass shooting on its one-month anniversary.

 

The movement, titled ”#Enough: National School Walkout,” is being facilitated through organizers of last year’s worldwide “Women’s March” in their “Youth Empower” section along with several activist groups, according to its website.

“We are not safe at school. We are not safe in our cities and towns,” the site said. “Congress must take meaningful action to keep us safe and pass federal gun reform legislation that address the public health crisis of gun violence. We want Congress to pay attention and take note: Many of us will vote this November and many others will join in 2020.”

A growing movement

In the two days since Redwine posted an advertisement online, she saw 40 responses as of Wednesday and she anticipates more will register when she returns to school from winter vacation this week.

Through the march’s website, student organizers listed events planned for Framingham High School, Franklin High School and Natick High School last week, among a list growing longer by the day.

“I am hoping that the Franklin High walkout will show those around us, mainly the adults, that this is an issue that affects all of us,” Redwine, who was traveling last week, said in her email. “I hope that they realize that the right for a person to own a gun is less important than the lives of innocent high schoolers, and any other person who is a victim of this type of violence.”

The rise in activism from the country’s teenagers could signal a “children’s crusade” needed to force lawmakers to thoroughly consider legislation regarding gun accessibility and mental health, Democratic U.S. Sen. Edward Markey said last week.

 

State Rep. David Linksy, D-Natick, a longtime advocate on Beacon Hill for stricter gun laws, expects this moment to be the tipping point in passing common sense gun laws at the federal level, he said.

He likened the current movement to those led by high school and college students to protest the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s. Their protests propelled debate and changed the nation’s psyche regarding the war.

“It is extremely heartening that high school students are becoming active and leading the way. Their energy and their idealism is much needed,” said Linsky, sharing Markey’s optimism. “They see this as a life-or-death issue and they are responding in unprecedented numbers to the horrors of the tragedy at Parkland, Florida.”

Linsky is the lead sponsor of a House bill that would allow Extreme Risk Protective Orders, which enable family members, some health care providers or police to seek a court order to temporarily remove firearms from someone who may be a danger to themselves or others. The bill is aimed at reducing suicide as well as protecting the public at large. A few states, primarily on the West Coast but also Connecticut, have adopted such measures.

The Gun Owners Action League opposes the legislation and, at a hearing on the bill last summer, the group’s executive director, Jim Wallace, said it does not do enough to address what happens after a gun is taken away from an at-risk person, according to the State House News Service.

“You’ve got somebody who has an issue, you’ve got to drag them through this process, which is going to aggravate the issue and then you’re going to take away their civil rights, and then what?” Wallace asked. “What are we doing for them? Nothing.”

Gun issues have been on Redwine’s mind since 20 children and six teachers were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.

 

But she cited a speech given by Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the Parkland shooting, on Feb. 17 that pointed a finger at lawmakers for inaction and rejected notions that teenagers are too young to understand how government works. Redwine found the speech inspirational and encouraging for her peers this time around.

“I believe that if we all use our right to vote in November and continue to speak about the issues that affect us and that we care about, we can make a difference in Congress and finally end this senseless violence,” Redwine said.

Marceau, who is co-editor of her school newspaper, The AMSA Voice, and president of the student government, penned an op-ed on Feb. 19 urging that now is the time for Congress to act.

Even in Massachusetts, which has some of the strictest gun laws and among the lowest gun-related deaths in the country, more could be done, she wrote, referencing her uncle’s death in the Wakefield massacre.

In 2016 - the most recent data available - the commonwealth saw 242 deaths caused by firearms with one of the lowest rates in the country, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Assault weapons don’t belong in the hands of civilians, especially not children, Marceau wrote.

Cruz, the shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and a former student, is 19 years old.

 

“When I saw that the AR-15 was used in the Parkland shooting, it just kind of struck me that these weapons are still around and doing harm to people across the country,” Marceau said, recalling her uncle’s death in an interview.

She has yet to talk with school administrators about the walkout, but said they have been open minded.

Redwine intends to talk to teachers and her principal after she returns from her week off.

Ideas and optimism

Redwine knows it takes a lot of work, and failure, to enact change in Congress.

But she plans to do whatever she can to put an end to mass shootings.

“I truly hope that something will change, but I am aware of how much money the (National Rifle Association) has put into politics and the presidency, and of our Second Amendment right,” Redwine said. “I do not believe that the action will come before the midterm elections, but many of the students who feel affected by this violence and want to make a difference are able to vote this November.”

 

Redwine already has a few ideas she wants lawmakers to enact, including a federal ban on assault weapons, universal background checks in the gun purchasing process and an expansion of mental health services.

Marceau has denounced a bill currently pending in Congress known as the “Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017,” which would allow someone who is authorized to carry a concealed handgun in one state to also carry it in another state where concealed carry is legal.

“The U.S. government needs to worry about gun control laws, not about passing (the act),” she wrote in her op-ed piece.

As more schools from around the country make plans to join the walkout, Redwine is optimistic.

“I completely believe that my generation could be the one to change gun laws,” she said.