Dear NRA, We Are Here to Stay
A reflection on gun violence, teenage political passion, and possibility
I struggled very much with writing a piece about National Walkout Day. I have so many thoughts and opinions swirling in my head about this action and the subsequent events that I am almost afraid to put them down on paper, for fear I will leave something out. I also feared I was not the right person to speak about this issue; I feared my story would not be as interesting or inspiring as those so prominent in the news; I feared the statistics went against my statements, or that I did not know enough to write anything worth reading.
Then I realized this is what the NRA, the gun lobby, politicians, want me to think: they want me to be silent because my neighborhood does not face the same frequent cycle of gun violence in the way that other neighborhoods do. They want me to sit down and shut up because I have not survived or witnessed a school shooting. They want me to stop talking once I realize school shootings are statistically rare, or that gun suicides make up 60% of gun related deaths. But does this make the loss of life any less tragic, or the action against gun violence any less necessary? They would like to dismiss my voice and the voices of my peers because we do not yet have high school diplomas, but on March 14th, we showed that if we are old enough to be shot, we are old enough to have an opinion about being shot.
A common notion about teenagers is that they do not care about what is happening unless it affects them personally—in other words, we are self-centered. I believe my generation is smashing these stereotypes to smithereens. We. Care. We care about people’s lives and people’s safety–at times, it seems, more than many politicians do. I realized that what happened at my school for National Walkout Day was special, but not unique relative to other schools. Our student body and student organizers teamed up with a national movement that is destroying stereotypes of teenagers as ignorant and apathetic.
I attend Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven, Connecticut. We are proud to be the largest and most diverse high school in the city. We are also proud to be from a state with strict gun control laws, and we are proud our state has among the lowest rates of gun death in the country. At our walkout, we stood in solidarity with victims–some of whom we knew, some whose names we knew from the news, and some with names and lives we will never know. This is part of our contribution to the movement. Though we do not personally know every victim, we wanted to stand together to mourn for those whose lives have been permanently altered by gun violence. And our own school community has not been untouched by gun violence. In 2015, a Wilbur Cross student named Jericho Scott was killed only feet from his home in a drive by shooting. Being from a city that has been listed more than once as one of the most dangerous in America (per capita) and described as “a small city with big city problems,” many of my fellow students have experienced gun violence on an intimate level.
The week before the walkout, the student council put up posters in the cafeteria with these prompts: “How Does Gun Violence Affect You?” “How Do You Want to Change Gun Violence?” and one “In Memory,” honoring victims of shootings. Students wrote, “Will today be the last time I see my mother?” “It scares me how it is only a matter of time before we see this on the news again.” As for change, most agreed that better background checks are a necessity, and that military style assault weapons should not be in the hands of civilians. People memorialized everyone from Tupac and Biggie Smalls to our classmate Jericho, to the Parkland and Sandy Hook kids, to Swervo, another young boy killed in New Haven. The poster also featured the mysterious but heartbreaking inscription: “To those on my block.”
In the week leading up to the walkout, myself and other members of Cross’s student body attended multiple meetings with the administration, whose support we were lucky enough to have. We had conversations with our friends and classmates about gun violence and gun reform, and we discovered that we share the belief that there is nothing in the world more precious than a life. We all value our lives and the lives of others. We care about them, and we want to protect them. There isn’t any apathy in teenagers when it comes to the hearts and lungs of ourselves and of others. We walked out on March 14th with the value of our lives in mind, and the indescribable value of the lives we have lost to the continuing epidemic of gun violence in America. I saw it as taking control of our own lives, taking the steps we believe are necessary to protect them, and the power in this sentiment is undeniable.
Margo Pedersen is a freshman at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven, Connecticut. She is a lifelong resident of New Haven and a varsity track athlete as well as a member of student council. She enjoys learning about history, economics, and urban studies.