Vote Them Out
By: Sabrina Escobar, Managing Editor
GENEVIEVE MARKEE’S knitting needles clicked in time to the bus’s engine as she weaved her bright purple wool together. At the freshman’s feet lay a piece of poster board, similar to those brought onto the bus by other students. As the end of a scarf began to materialize, the bus pulled up in front of the White House Visitors Office to drop off some of the University of Richmond students who would be participating in the March For Our Lives rally on March 24. The rally was organized by a group of survivors from the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who have become the faces of the movement advocating for gun control.
“There’s a lot of political areas where I can really see both sides, but this is definitely not one,” Markee said. “The idea that we need to have at least sensible gun control — I don’t know if I’d go as far as we need to repeal the Second Amendment — but definitely some form of well-regulated gun control.”
That day, Markee became one of approximately 800,000 people from all around the country, according to the rally organizer estimates, who attended the rally. She and the other students from UR joined the herds of people ling into Pennsylvania Avenue, dancing to the beat of Kesha’s “Tik-Tok” as it blasted from the speakers that would later transmit the speeches prepared by the young victims of gun violence. Beneath the light-hearted, enthusiastic mood, however, there was a pervasive feeling of determination, anger and pain — nobody who attended was taking the rally lightly.
“I’m marching because it seems like it’s obvious, but we need stricter gun laws and the government doesn’t seem to realize that,” said Jamie Katz, a UR junior who attended the rally. “We’re gonna make them realize that.”
Twenty high-school, middle-school and elementary-school students stepped up to the lectern and demanded to be heard by lawmakers that day. Together, they delivered an ultimatum: if Congress did not instate legislation demanding universal background checks for buying weapons, banning assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, and funding research that investigates the gun violence epidemic, the teenagers would “vote them out.”“We wake up every day, and it’s kind of like a night- mare that we’re still living through, so we try to do whatever we can to feel better about it,” said Kristen*, a mother whose son attends Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and who was at the rally with the rest of her family .
The March 24 rally was not the first protest organized by the Parkland survivors. They had also staged several protests along with supporters across the nation in the days following the February shooting, especially in their hometown. Support for gun control appears to have hit a 10-year high, according to a poll lead by Quinnipiac University. 66 percent of poll-takers supported stricter gun laws, and 67 percent supported a ban on assault weapons. Following these protests, in addition to the March 24 rally, state legislators have begun to enact change.
In Rhode Island, Gov. Gina Raimondo passed an executive decree a week after the shooting, legitimizing a “red ag” law that permits gun confiscation from people who may be dangerous to themselves and others. In Florida, state legislators passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Safety Act, which raises the minimum age to buy weapons from 18 to 21, enforces a three-day waiting period for buying a gun and bans the sale and possession of bump stocks, among other reforms. The states of Oregon, Illinois, Washington, Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, South Dakota and Texas have also passed some form of gun-control legislation.
Vermont lawmakers passed a reform bill that raises the minimum buying age, bans bumps stocks, and limits rifle magazines to 10 rounds. Anti-reform protests sprung up across the state, and protesters at the State Capitol handed out free rifle magazines capable of holding up to 30 rounds, as a taunt to the new law. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, said he would sign the bill after a Vermont high school student was found planning a mass shooting.
“The reality of how close we came to a devastating tragedy underscores the threat of violence that faces the entire country,” Scott said, according to a New York Times article. “As a result, I’ve been asking myself, ‘Are we doing everything we can to protect our kids?’”The Vermont protests demonstrate how difficult it is to pass the stringent gun legislation the Parkland survivors are asking for. Second Amendment supporters are backed by the National Ri e Association, which has taken an aggressive stance against gun control reforms. Many of the Parkland protesters targeted the NRA as one of the main obstacles to passing legislation, saying that the NRA has funded many politicians to prevent legislation from passing.
For many ardent Second Amendment supporters, placing restrictions on gun ownership is not the way to solve the problem. In the Quinnipiac University poll, 60 percent of Republicans said they were opposed to stricter laws. Forty-one percent preferred adding metal detectors in schools, and 38 percent said they preferred arming teachers. Another poll conducted by ABC News and the Washington Post found that 59 percent of Republicans believed that arming teachers could have prevented the Parkland shooting.“We cannot make America safe again until we arm our teachers,” said Parkland survivor Ryan Deitsch during his speech, causing the crowd to gape in confusion. “We need to arm our teachers. We need to arm them with pencils, pens, paper and the money they need — they need that money to support their families and to support themselves, before they can support the futures in those classrooms.”
President Trump supported the idea of arming teachers in the past, saying that gun-free zones were “proven targets of killers.” He also expressed staunch support of the Second Amendment on his Twitter feed. Nevertheless, he surprised many members of the NRA and ardent Second Amendment activists by speaking in favor of extensive background checks and banning bump stocks, as well as suggesting that law officials could take guns from people deemed hazardous without a court order — thus taking the guns first and going through due process second.
Despite the president’s support to enact some sort of gun control, no federal legislation has yet been passed. Various news sources speculate that gun control will be one of the central issues in future elections, influenced partly by this new wave of activists. “We are participating in marches, we’re going to vigils, we’re helping out the victims that are still recovering from it, so, whatever we can do, we’re stepping up and doing it,” Kristen said.
[Editor's note: Names with an asterisk have been changed because the person did not want to be recognized as she feared for her safety]