Students who survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida last month called for political accountability and changes to the way the nation regulates guns and handles gun violence during a panel discussion at Harvard University Tuesday night.
They also warned against apathy during their appearance at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at the Institute for Politics.
“You need to act,” said Emma Gonzalez, an 18-year-old student. “Acting is very important.”
On Feb. 14, 17 people were fatally shot at the public high school in Parkland, Fla., and 17 more were wounded in one of the deadliest school shootings in US history.
The shooting has sparked protests throughout the country, and survivors of the Parkland shooting have garnered international attention with their calls for stricter gun laws.
At the Harvard forum, called “#NEVERAGAIN: How Parkland Students are Changing the Conversation on Guns,” the students continued their call to action. Five of the six students who took part attend the high school; the sixth is a recent graduate.
Student Alex Wind said every politician should be asked to take a stance on the issue of gun control, so that voters are faced with a stark and simple choice at the ballot box.
No person should be afraid of going to the mall, a concert, or an airport, he said.
“It’s just not the way I want to live in this country,” he said.
David Hogg had similar sentiments, suggesting that if lawmakers don’t take action to curb gun violence, they should be replaced with someone who will.
“If you choose not to vote on the side of human lives that are innocently taken, thousands of people every year, that’s OK, because we’ll vote you out, it’s as simple as that,” he said.
Before the discussion began, a moment of silence was held to acknowledge a shooting at a Maryland high school that left one dead and two wounded on Tuesday.
The students’ advocacy has been part of a political groundswell that has already brought some results. Three weeks after the shooting, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law a new set of gun regulations. The law imposes a three-day waiting period for most purchases of long guns, raises the minimum age for purchasing those weapons to 21, and bans the possession of bump stocks.
Earlier this month, droves of students around the country walked out of their schools to protest gun violence. The protests included Massachusetts, where hundreds of students marched on the State House to call for tighter gun control.
There are more marches planned; Parkland students have said they expect 1 million people to march in anti-gun-violence rallies this Saturday.
During Tuesday’s discussion, Wind said more work needs to be done. He said there is overwhelming support in the country for “expansive and universal” background checks for gun purchases.
“There’s been a lot of talk about that, yet no action, why is that?” he asked.
The public, Wind said, needs to show that politicians cannot afford to be idle on that issue.
Responding to a question about the idea of arming teachers, Hogg said, “Do we want to turn our schools into war zones?”
Hogg said he’s not interested in going after “law-abiding gun owners.”
“I don’t think that you need a weapon of mass destruction and I especially don’t think that somebody with a criminal history or somebody that is mentally unstable should be able to get one of these weapons,” said Hogg. “I think that’s something we can cross the aisle on.”
Authorities have said the accused Parkland gunman, Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old former student at the school, bought the AR-15 rifle he allegedly used in the shooting in February 2017.
In the aftermath of the shooting at his high school, Cameron Kasky said he thought about other mass shootings and how there’s now a typical response to such tragedies: a two-week news cycle focuses on the tragedy while “bundles” of thoughts and prayers are sent to the victims before people move on.
Kasky said the Parkland shooting spurred him to do something; he thought students needed to step forward to ensure others aren’t controlling the narrative of their experience as mass shooting survivors.
“We see past this facade that this is inevitable and this is the price of our freedom,” he said.