By Gabrielle Goldworm
We have reached a point in American history where we may never make offhand jokes about guns again, because it will always be too soon after a school shooting.
A mere six days after the shooting in Birmingham Alabama another shooting took place at a school in Green Mills Maryland. At only a little over 11 weeks into 2018, there have been 17 school shootings in which individuals were injured or killed. According to a report compiled by CNN, this averages out to 1.5 shootings per week. The students that have survived these attempts or have seen friends and classmates die understandably have opinions about this phenomenon.
In the wake of the February 14 Parkland Florida shooting, which shocked the nation into once again discussing gun control, mental health, and safety in schools, there was a massive increase in student activism. The Washington Post states that several Parkland students spoke passionately about what they had experienced during and after the shooting. They also spoke on the subject of gun control, which in turn inspired movements across the nation, such as the March For Our Lives movement and numerous school walkouts.
For some reason, the walkouts have been seen by some as controversial, with many accusing the students of “using a tragedy to push a political agenda.” Some have said that students don’t know enough about the issue or about guns in general to be attempting to affect policy changes. But to make such statements ignores some very obvious facts about the planned walkouts, the nature of the American constitutional right to assembly, and the students who choose to participate.
To understand the motivation behind the walkouts, one must first understand that no protest is ever about one thing, and that one protest may mean many things to many different people. This is the nature of the walkouts happening now, which for many, are not only an expression of their desire for stricter gun control laws, but an expression of grief for those who lost their lives in the Parkland Shooting and countless other school shootings nationwide.
When a group of Parkland Students chose to go from one of the victim’s funerals to drive 400 miles to Tallahassee to demand stricter gun control from lawmakers, that was an expression of grief, reports The New York Times. When they stood on the balcony and cried as said lawmakers rejected an effort to even debate an assault weapons ban, that was an expression of grief. And when students walked out of their classrooms for 17 minutes to represent each of the 17 lives lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, that was an expression of grief.
Anger and frustration were also naturally present; many students believe little to no progress has been made on this issue, despite the countless lives lost to gun violence, but grief was the most universal emotion behind this movement. And no one can tell anyone else how to grieve. No one can tell anyone to remain silent on an issue that continuously hurts them, both mentally and physically, and reasonably expect them to comply.
Many of the students that chose to walk out on March 14 were of or approaching legal voting age, so the excuse that “they’re just kids, they don’t really understand what’s going on” doesn’t really hold water any longer. They are, after all, old enough to buy a gun in many states, according to Giffords Law Center.
If everything else when it comes to school walkouts is relatively debatable, there is one indisputable fact that legitimizes the walkouts in a legal sense. The Library of Congress states that article one of the United States constitution guarantees the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of speech. None of the walkouts have yet resulted in any violence, destruction of property, or the violation of any federal laws. Additionally, no students were required to walk out, and some chose not to.
Choice is the key term here; students have the choice whether or not to walkout. Some were told they would be subject to punishment by their school, and they still chose to attend, knowing there would likely be consequences, CNN reports. If our government and our schools are truly committed to the idea of an engaged and educated American populace, they must stand behind the right to choose, and thus the right to express dissent – regardless of the ideals behind a particular protest or movement.