The New Leaders in an Age-Old War

In the wake of the Parkland shooting, a conversation has been sparked that has failed to die out like the many other’s before it. Across the nation, demands for gun reform have been the centerpiece of news casts and for the first time it is the students who survived this act of violence that are leading the charge.  


Even as high school students lead a debate about gun control with their government representatives, college students are forming behind them to help create a lasting dialogue. A new student group at the University of Colorado Boulder called Students Demand Action is taking their first steps towards a future where students can feel safe again. 


Students Demand Action at CU Boulder is a chapter of a larger group called Everytown for Gun Safety who has been working and researching gun control. Sarah Shortall, one of the founding members of Students Demand Action at CU Boulder, talked about how they are looking at making change, “We care a lot about how we can have discourse and create conversation from both sides and have opinions from both sides. I personally believe the only solution that will make a change is if it’s supported by both side.”


In a state as politically divided as Colorado it is important to give a voice to both sides. A roundtable debate on gun reform at CU Boulder discussed what needs to be done for these groups to have a lasting impact. Nabil Echchaibi, the founding department chair of media studies said, “We maintain the momentum by knowing what our tools are… and our tools are the media.”


This rising generation of leaders have become particularly savvy in one particular medium of the internet. Social media. This relatively newfound form of communication has allowed these young people to form into a cohesive group to actively fight for their safety across the nation. During the roundtable discussion it was discussed that with this widespread source of communication that the young people must come up with a unifying objective. Without this unifying idea, these groups would be likely to fail like the many that have come before them. 


On 24 March, 2018 1 million people took to cities across the United States to demand gun legislation reform. In an event titled the March for our Lives these people took to protesting the current laws we have in place surrounding gun laws. A protest that was widely spread across social media gained more and more attention leading to protests in more than 800 cities across the United States bringing people from all backgrounds to defend their right to feel safe. 


Young leaders from Parkland traveled to Washington D.C. to speak about their hopes for the future of our country. They lead approximately 800,000 people in a march that demanded new legislation that would bring the legal age to buy a gun to 21 years old, close the gun show loophole, restore a ban on assault style weapons that ended in 2004 and many others. This march came to a climax with multiple survivors of the Parkland shooting giving speeches about their hopes for the future of this country. 


Although there are many people in favor of gun reform, there were counter protests that took place on the same day as the March for our Lives. In Woodland Park, Colorado, a small town outside of Colorado Springs, a counter protest was set up what people called a defense of their second amendment rights. This counter protest was a march planned on social media in which people would open carry their guns through the town of Woodland Park as a demonstration of their right to bear arms.


With student groups forming and joining together to create pressure for nationwide change Shortall said, “I think the first step is continuing the conversation. I think that for the first time, our representatives are feeling pressure and it’s largely because of the student population.” With the formation of these new groups the conversation continues and new people are brought in to bring to light things that groups had previously not looked at. 


Shortall said what she thought was the key to continuing the conversation and creating a lasting change, “They don’t need to be involved with our chapter, they can start their own chapters and I think that’s key to really spreading the movement. If we can get Students Demand Action chapters at every high school and every university then maybe we have a chance.” 


In the days following the shooting in Parkland, Florida that took the lives of 17 individuals and affected many more, student activists took to their state capitol to demand that action be taken to protect their lives. For the first time these students were leading the charge into battle instead of drowning in their grief. 


Surviving students from Parkland boarded a bus and took to the Florida capital to demand action to increase gun restrictions and protection. Some students could be seen pressing hard questions against senator Marco Rubio asking if he would refuse to accept money from the National Rifle Association. Within a week the students of Parkland, Florida started a movement that has seen largely more success than many other movements started in the wake of a tragedy. 


Parkland students have lit a fire that is sweeping across the nation and transforming the way we are looking at gun legislation. For the first time, it is the young people of America, between the ages of 16 and 22 who are bringing the issue forward and demanding action. No longer are they relying on their parents or school officials to argue on their behalf. They are challenging their political representatives directly and aren’t about to back down.