Never Again

187,000 students have experienced a school shooting in the past 20 years. This time, thoughts and prayers aren’t enough.

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Never Again

Tony Madden, Editor-in-Chief

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187,000 students, more than 100 times the student population of Kickapoo High School, have experienced a school shooting in the last 19 years, according to a March analysis by the Washington Post. Since then, over 130 students from teachers and children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, to young adults and faculty members at Virginia Tech, have been killed as a result of these shootings.

In February, 17 students and staff members at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School were shot and killed by accused gunman Nikolas Cruz, a former student of the Parkland, Florida high school. Cruz executed the attack with an AR-15-style rifle. He purchased the firearm legally nearly a year before the massacre, USA Today reports.

Federal law states that it is unlawful to “sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition” to those who have been committed to a mental institution or are believed to

be mentally defective. NBC News reported in February that Cruz was examined by professionals Henderson Behavioral Health, and the Florida Department of Children and Families when his mental state was called into question in 2016. Cruz’s own attorney also described him as a “broken child” who suffered from brain development issues and depression in February. Still, he was able to legally purchase the firearm used to kill 15 students and two staff members at Douglas High.

But for the survivors, the usual social media circulation of “thoughts and prayers” was not enough. Instead, Douglas students stepped into the limelight to demand change in an unprecedented student movement.

These demands went on to incite demonstrations like the Walkout for Our Lives: a student protest pleading for stricter gun control laws, especially those regarding AR-15 and other assault-style rifles. The Washington Post reports that tens of thousands of students walked out of their schools in protest, including students of Central, Glendale and Kickapoo High Schools.

Student protesters watch as sophomore Jaden Carter discusses the importance of safety in schools. Photo by Tony Madden.

Douglas High survivors also organized a nationwide protest dubbed the March for Our Lives, which drew hundreds of thousands to march for gun control in Washington, D.C. The Post compared the size and scope of the march to that of student protests during the Vietnam War.

   In March, juniors Grace Laflen and Zoë Sweaney organized Kickapoo’s participation in the Springfield Walkout for Our Lives: a peaceful protest to push for stricter gun control laws, especially those regarding assault weapons.

   According to Sweaney, more than 300 students walked out of their classes to the football field on March 23, chanting “no more silence, end gun violence.” Organizers of the walkout spoke to the crowd of protestors for approximately 45 minutes before returning to class. According to a News-Leader report from the week of the walkout, students at Central and Glendale High Schools also walked out.

   “I do think that we made a profound impact,” Sweaney said. “I think that in their minds -at the state level of our government, and even the federal level of our government- they know that we are here. And I think they’ll keep that in mind from now on.”

   Sweaney was pleased to report that the walkout was executed well, with support from administration and nearly three times as many participants than expected.

   Sweaney told KHQ that more restricted access to AR-15 and other assault-style weapons and more intensive background and mental health checks in both the private and public sectors of firearm sales are the two main priorities on their agenda for the #NeverAgain movement. While  she does not advocate for a repeal of the second amendment, she says  that no amendment is immune to regulation.

   “Although our right to vote is constitutionally protected, everyone still must register and voter ID laws exist,” Sweaney said. “I think it’s important they know that although we recognize their rights, we also recognize the importance of regulating access to dangerous weapons.” She also added that people who “stay hidden” behind the second amendment are the greatest barrier to change.

   Sweaney told KHQ that in all, this bipartisan movement has one goal: to keep children safe at school at all costs. She says she often becomes concerned when politics become too involved with this goal.

Junior Zoë Sweaney speaks to approximately 300 students who walked out in late March- more than three times the expected outcome. Photo by Jack Patrick.

   “…even if they aren’t agreeable on every single platform we have, if in all they just want to make America and specifically schools safer, then we’re on the same side as them,” Sweaney said.

   Not all students agree with Sweaney’s views, however. A group of approximately 80 students wore tee shirts with various facts and statistics in response to the Walkout for Our Lives to stand up for their second amendment rights and honor those who routinely save lives with firearms.

   “…there is a different point of view that is sometimes not seen or heard,” junior Carson Fink said. “Wearing the shirt gave me a voice without being disrespectful.”

   Approximately 30 students bearing these shirts walked out of the west side of the building to the flag pole in a counter-protest. One student reportedly mounted an American flag on his truck and parked in front of the protest. He was asked to move the truck, and later faced disciplinary action. Fink was not one of these students. Multiple participants in this counter-protest declined request for interview.

   Fink told KHQ that he does not believe that gun control legislation will stop school shootings or any other type of mass murders. He says the root of the problem lies within moral decrepitude in American society.

   “We have lost the value of the human life and our spirituality, and that is what I think we need to bring back,” Fink said. “We have lost our moral absolutes, and the lines of right and wrong are blurred…law-breakers do not respect the law.”

Approximately 30 students walked out in the Walkout for Our Lives counter-protest to stand up for their second amendment rights in front of the flag pole. Photo by Austin Frye.

   Fink added that arming officers and officials inside schools could prevent school shootings more effectively than more restrictive gun control legislation.

   “Armed professionals, who have been trained to be proficient, are the best defense against harm. This includes resource officers and police officers,” Fink said. “Law-breakers are not stopped by more laws but by professionals with arms.”

   Sweaney, however, is troubled by the idea of more firearms in schools.

   “…armed SRO’s do not deter shooters from entering the school… the problem was that they were able to get the gun into the school in the first place,” Sweaney said. “…we need to look at a solution that stops them from getting the gun in the first place, rather than confronting them during the face-off.” She added that the presence of more armed professionals could make schools feel like “prisons.”

Junior Carson Fink says that moral decreptitude in society is the root of gun violence in America, and new legislation is not likely to stop law-breakers. Photo by Tony Madden.

   In all, both Fink and Sweaney hope to see change in order to make schools in America safer for everyone. For Fink, this means bringing back common morality and “absolute truths,” while maintaining second amendment rights and increasing individual gun responsibility. For Sweaney, it means preventing firearms from falling into the wrong hands while avoiding the infringement of anyone’s constitutionally guaranteed right.

   “We just want to see change,” Sweaney said. “I feel like anyone who is against that is advocating for the status quo. And so many people are dying in the status quo.”


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