When children act like leaders and leaders act like children, you know change is coming.
In the aftermath of another tragedy where 17 lives were taken during a school shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school, it again seemed difficult to continue this unrequited fight for gun reform. Yet the sheer determination of the student survivors have restored our hope. They have reminded us of what we, as students, are capable of.
It is no longer a question of if change will happen, only a question of when. As our generation approaches adulthood, we will bring down this sexist, racist, elitist, corrupt hegemony that embodies our nation’s capital. We no longer have to be the victims of our neglectful predecessors. This change begins with us.
Although we are teenagers, we should not allow our age to prevent us from challenging the beliefs of our elected officials and the harmful foundations of our country. The student survivors from Parkland are proof that young age is not synonymous with ignorance. And they are serving as a rallying call for all of us.
At a Fort Lauderdale, FL anti-gun rally on Feb. 19, Parkland survivor Emma Gonzalez called “BS” on common objections to gun control as a crowd of hundreds of thousands applauded her. On the same day, high school students from the D.C. area staged a lie-in in front of the White House, surrounded by hundreds of other student protesters.
The survivors have put into motion more calls for gun reform in the weeks following the shooting than lawmakers have in decades. And their fight is not over. Students across the country are organizing staged walkouts to protest of gun violence on March 14 and April 20. On March 24, the survivors of the Florida shooting are holding a “March for Our Lives” in Washington, while others students across the nation, including students from KC, will be marching in their city to end gun violence.
The government has remained consistent in telling the American people to not publicize nor politicize these tragedies. It’s pitiful that the victims of the Parkland shooting are the ones who have to demand that now is the right time to start this conversation instead of our own legislatures. However, their voices have resulted in tremendous steps in the right direction for our country.
On Feb. 28, Walmart raised the minimum age for firearm purchases to 21, and Oregon lawmakers passed a bill banning gun ownership for people with domestic violence convictions on Feb. 22. Major businesses have cut ties with the National Rifle Association, such as the First National Bank of Omaha, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Avis and Hertz car rental services, the MetLife insurance company and more.
Yet, as they protest for the sake of student lives, there are the inevitable counter-protestors who seem to all have the same trivial argument: our age.
Bill O’Reilly tweeted on Feb. 20, “The big question is: should the media be promoting opinions by teenagers who are in an emotional state and facing extreme peer pressure in some cases?” To which a 39-year-old American DJ, Diplo, clap backed: “So teenagers can own assault rifles but not have their own opinions?”
The voices of teenagers are just as valuable and worthy as anyone else’s, especially because we are the victims. As we approach adulthood, we also approach our right to vote, our right to get tattoos and our rights to own guns. We had the option to scroll past this news and move on, but we didn’t. The reactions of the Parkland survivors replaced the strength back into our generation, reminding us of just how powerful we can be.
We encourage you to organize a march, inform those less aware about the dangers of gun violence and voice your opinions on social media. In the wake of change, we hope you choose to participate. And when change finally does happen, you’ll be able to say you not only watched it happen, but played a role in it.
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Senior Sam Fay remembers walking home from school on Dec. 12, 2012. As the sixth grader walked into his front door, he was greeted by his shaking mother, who had tears streaming down her face. This is the first time he heard about the fatal shooting of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School – a moment that has stayed ingrained in his mind till today.
But when asked, Fay doesn’t know what he was doing when he first received the news of the 17-victim shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL on Feb. 14. To Fay now, the news of a mass shooting didn’t register the same sense of distraught that the Sandy Hook shooting had six years ago.
“I don’t remember what I was doing, and that makes the situation even more disturbing,” Fay said. “These [shootings] are happening with more and more frequency, that they all blur together and seem less significant.”
As students around the nation plan to join forces on April 20 for National Walkout Day – the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, CO – student leaders at East are planning events that will allow and inspire students to join forces with the rest of the country in the push for harsher and increased control on guns.
Fay and seniors Robbie Veglahn and Ellie Van Gordon met with Principal John McKinney to discuss ways they could plan for students to somehow participate in the walkout on April 20. The group came up with an idea of encouraging students to participate in a 17-minute walkout, honoring the 17 students and adults who were killed in the Parkland shooting.
Fay is in support of the 17-minute walkout because he believes it will unite students and give them a chance to show their support in the national movement towards stricter gun reform. However, Fay doesn’t believe the walkout will create a direct gateway to the “common sense gun laws” he is looking for. Social studies teacher David Muhammad agrees.
“[A] walkout is not going to change legislation,” Muhammad said. “The walkouts are more of an emotional opportunity to [make students] feel like they are a part of something bigger, which they are.”
Fay and Veglahn, along with other school leaders, have taken it upon themselves to create that direct impact. They are in the process of planning a Civic Engagement Day, which will host students, administrators, adults, local gun reform activists and legislators to start the discussion of how East and the Johnson County area can prevent schools in the area from being the next victim of a mass shooting.
As of now, the two have not set an official date for the Civic Engagement Day. Fay says their hope is to host the event at East in late April – during a time when the government is not in session in Topeka – in order to allow for as many government legislators to attend and speak to students as possible.
“Our forum is going to be a broader conversation that is going to focus on influencing legislation,” Fay said.
Fay’s goal with the forum is to help students become informed on an issue he believes isn’t based on politics, but instead on student and citizen safety.
“To me, it’s not about how I got so passionate about the movement, it’s how are people not as passionate about it as me,” Fay said. “People should be a lot more involved than they are.”
According to Fay, the event will not be East or district affiliated in order to allow the questions and discussion topics to have a larger focus on affecting legislation on gun reform, which administrators are not allowed to comment on when representing the district. They will encourage attendance from students and adults outside of the East and SMSD community.
“We want our panels and forums to be a non-partisan thing,” Fay said. “We just want the opportunity for discussion and to share our opinions that can intersect, so we can find our respect and mutual respect for others views.”
The seniors want the conversation of safety in schools and common sense gun reform to “not die out” and continue spreading throughout the community. But they also want to spark immediate political action in the capital. Right before the government goes in recess, Fay and Veglahn plan to take a bus of students to Topeka to speak directly to legislators to push for what they are calling “common sense gun reform.”
Democratic State Representative Cindy Holscher invited students in the Johnson County area to travel to Topeka to knock on government officials’ office doors and express first-hand their concerns and opinions in regards to gun control. Holscher invited the students to come on March 14, the same day as another National School Walkout Day. Due to spring break, no East students attended the lobby day.
In an interview with National Public Radio host Ari Shapiro on Feb. 26, Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer explained how “there is a conversation that’s happening about gun violence [in Kansas],” but “it’s not as loud as the national one.” And Holscher echoes Colyers words by saying there currently aren’t the pushes for gun control regulations and background checks she would like to see in Kansas.
“Our legislators need to see us,” Holscher said. “They need to see that people are taking action, they need to hear that people are using their voices, so that’s why it is important [for students] to come to the capital.
And Holscher believes the students who lobbied on March 14 made a direct change in legislator opinions. The day after the students came to Topeka, the Senate voted on a bill that would restrict people who had a domestic abuse charge to own a gun until five years after their last recorded incident. The bill had passed the House of Representatives and then on March 15, passed the Senate.
Fay hopes that the group of students they bus down to Topeka can spark the same call for action that the students on March 14 did.
“Students in Blue Valley are coming together to try and draft a bill,” Fay said. “They are using lawmakers they know to figure out how to draft a bill and get something tangible that we could actually give to a lawmaker when we travel down to Topeka, something tangible that encompasses all our ideas for common sense gun legislation.”
With the Civic Engagement day and lobby day planned in the near future, some East students have already contributed to the national movement that calls politicians to be proactive when it comes to gun control.
Senior Denny Rice and freshman Ellie Freeman joined the March for Our Lives KC Student Board. The board helped plan the March for Our Lives rally that took place last Saturday at Theis Park in downtown Kansas City. The rally was one of around 800 other March for Our Lives events nationwide that took place on that day. Their website shares their movement’s message, which is to “demand that [citizens] lives and safety become a priority and that we end this epidemic of mass school shootings.”
After the Parkland shooting, Freeman found herself tweeting back at President Donald Trump’s responses to the shooting and retweeting messages from the March for Our Lives Twitter account. Already having a passion towards gun reform, Freeman joined the committee and helped plan the interactive activities present at the rally, such as the posters everyone signed and walls of photos showcasing victims of past school shootings.
Through working on the student board, Freeman was able to help leave an impact on 10,000 plus attendees, instead of her 115 Twitter followers.
Rice was also on the Student Board. Rice was part of the committee that helped create one universal goal they wanted to see happen through the rally – they wanted elected officials in both Kansas and Missouri to have a clear idea of what direction March for Our Lives attendees want gun legislation to go in.
Their main reform goals at the state level are to create stricter background checks when purchasing a gun, an increase in the allowed age to purchase a firearm, protection of “no gun zones”, such as schools and government buildings and giving control of certain gun laws and restrictions to local government.
East students are not the only kids looking to make a change on the local and national level in regards to gun control legislation.
During East’s 17 minute walkout, schools in the surrounding area such as Blue Valley North are planning to participate in the national walkout as well. However, BVN junior Taylor Mills says students will not be returning to class after the 10 a.m. National Walkout start time.
“I think that sometimes extreme situations require extreme movement to make things happen and bring attention to them,” principal John McKinney said. “A walkout is a peaceful, safe way of addressing the issue of school safety.”
Leaders at BVN also planned a community rally at the Jewish Community Center following the National Walkout, welcome to the public.
Fay says he plans on attending the April 20 rally but also has been planning with student leaders from the Shawnee Mission, Blue Valley and Olathe school districts to create one uniform event to push common sense gun control. The 25 students communicate in a GroupMe called “KC Political Leaders.”
There are t-shirts designed for the National Walkout Day available for all schools and there has been talk of creating one cross-district rally for students in all three districts to attend. Fay thinks that creating one large event will allow for a larger impact on the community, due to the fact that media will only have to cover one event, instead of multiple smaller ones.
With the Civic Engagement Day and lobby day plans still being worked out for the future, Fay’s goal is to uncover the underlying issues as to why our country is losing the battle against preventing mass shootings.
“I strongly disagree that taking away guns is the answer, and I am in full support of the second amendment,” Fay said. “But something needs to be done, whether that be regulation or requiring annual mental health checkups. Something needs to change if we want to stop American schools from bleeding.”
Once a month, we are alerted by the intercoms to get into position. We turn off the lights and crouch in the corner of our classrooms, preparing for a possible code red. We whisper and check our Snapchats as a police officer rattles the door handle, checking to see if our room is locked. Yet in reality, we wouldn’t be laughing if it wasn’t just the friendly SRO officer standing behind the door.
17 people were killed and 14 were hospitalized on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. at the hands of a mass murderer. Any school, including Shawnee Mission East, could face the deranged attack of someone like 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who walked into Parkland’s doors that day with a legally purchased AR-15
Like East, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had security, a school officer and code reds – but these precautions proved nearly pointless in the wake of 17 lives that were lost.
It is time to do more than hide in a corner.
Code red drills are not the right protection from an active shooter situation. Security filled, bulletproof classrooms with students that are educated on new and improved drills are the right protection. Code reds would become the back up protection plan if the security isn’t enough.
Ever since kindergarten I’ve been practicing code red drills in school “just in case” we were to have an active shooter or some other threat in the building. The teacher locked the door, turned off the lights and everybody crowded to the safest corner of the room as practice in case of a safety threat.
Code red drills are always performed in the perfect scenario: minutes into class when everyone is seated in their classroom. Students and teachers have not been prepared for other scenarios such as an active shooter during lunch, or a passing period.
Huddling away from the sight of windows and doors while a school shooter unloads his or her weapons is just as futile and pitiful as the “duck and cover!” drill was during the Cold War era.
Maybe a room with no windows and a locked door could be beneficial during a school shooting – but what will happen to those who aren’t in this ideal hiding spot?
Updated drills such as the one that Southwestern High School in Shelbyville, Ind. are needed. SMSD needs to take notes from this school, who call themselves “the safest school in America.” The high school is equipped with bulletproof doors, panic buttons, cameras and smoke cannons, but not only that, they have also updated their safety protocol and drills.
At Southwestern High School, each teacher in the building has an emergency fob that he or she press in case of emergency, which sets off a school-wide alarm and notifies the local police. There is also a panic button in each classroom that allows the teacher to notify the local law enforcement their classroom is safe, signal they need medical aid or ask for help if they’ve seen the suspect.
After police are notified, the students are taught to barricade themselves with books and desks in a designated corner of the classroom that is the least visible angle away from the window.
The local law enforcement has access to live cameras in the building so they can see the shooter’s movements and if necessary, they can launch what they call “hot zones.” Hot zones are cannons that shoot smoke to distract and limit the visibility of the intruder in hallways.
According to USAtoday.com, the entire system was reported to cost $400,000. There isn’t a price tag for the loss of children’s lives so the $400,000 is well worth it.
East has multiple well-trained SRO officers, cameras that are managed all day and night, and sensors that notify officers when a door has been propped open for a long amount of time.
But is that enough?
SMSD has the resources to implement a security system just as the one in Shelbyville, Ind. matter of fact, on Feb. 15, SMSD approved $11 million to be spent on updating our technology. For the cost of updated Apple products, our school district could have 27 of 44 schools fully secured.
Administrators need to learn from the Parkland, Fla. tragedy that anyone can be an armed intruder – even someone that attends the school. And that the gun restrictions aren’t changing anytime soon.
The change needs to begin with the voices of us: students, administrators and parents. We can’t prevent these crises from happening, but we can control how we protect ourselves from them.
The gun discussion isn’t just the hot new topic of 2018. Even three years ago, students were discussing and the policies surrounding the second amendment. Take a look back at the Harbinger’s 2015 gun control debate in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting: