"Protect Kids, Not Guns": Maryland teenagers skip school to demand action
Note: This piece was co-written with Prospect intern Mark Ossolinski.
Several hundred Washington-area high school students gathered outside the U.S. Capitol and the White House on Wednesday to protest gun violence and urge lawmakers to enact gun control legislation in the wake of last week’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
The students, who came from a handful of public high schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, north of Washington, skipped the better part of their school day to take Metro’s Red Line down to the U.S. Capitol. There, following several minutes of chants of “Enough is enough” and “Hey hey, ho ho, the NRA has got to go,” they were greeted by Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland’s Eighth Congressional District.
“Inside are the powers that be, outside are the powers that ought to be, and you are the powers that are soon to be in the United States of America,” Raskin told the students.
Meanwhile, that sentiment also pervaded the atmosphere in front of the White House, where the students marched after meeting with Raskin. There, teenagers expressed alternating feelings of frustration with Congress and fear of where the next school shooting will take place, as well as determination to effect changes to the country’s gun laws.
“After seeing what happened in Florida, after hearing people like [Stoneman Douglas student] Emma Gonzalez speak, I would feel guilty if I didn’t do something,” Daniel Gelillo, 18, a senior at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville tells The American Prospect. Gelillo began organizing the event on social media on Tuesday, and within 24 hours, news of it had spread to hundreds of his peers at multiple high schools in the county.
Gelillo remarked on how close to home the Parkland shooting had felt to his classmates. “Now with Parkland and especially the videos that came out during the shooting, I could see that happening in my own school and I just couldn’t stand for it. Something has to change.”
“You literally saw bodies on the floor,” says Zoe McKnight, a senior at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring. “I thought, ‘That classroom looks like my classroom. That could happen to me, that could happen to my teacher, that could happen to my classmates.’”
“We’re here because it could have been any of us,” says Alex Heywood, 14, also a student at Montgomery Blair.
A heightened sense of fear has persisted in Montgomery County. Last Thursday, a student at Clarksburg High School in Clarksburg, another school in the county, was arrested for allegedly bringing a loaded gun into school. Then, Wednesday morning, two high schools in Montgomery County were evacuated due to bomb threats. McKnight says going to school has been difficult after the shooting in Florida, because she’s reminded that violence could strike anywhere.
“Every time I turned around the corner, I was so scared,” McKnight says of her first day at school following the Parkland shooting. “If I heard a loud sound, I’d be planning an escape. I was terrified to be in school.”
As horrifying as the events in Parkland were, many students at the protest said they weren’t surprised: The prospect of another school shooting is just part of obtaining an education.
“I’m used to being worried about a gunman coming in and hurting me and my friends and my teachers,” Gelillo says. “We’ve become desensitized to it. We can’t [just say] ‘Oh, just another one.’ There can’t be another one. Parkland has to be the last school shooting.”
“We should worry about maintaining a 4.0, not our lives,” Kesi Hartford, 16, of Richard Montgomery, tells the Prospect.“Condolences and ‘sorry’ only goes so far. Actions need to be taken.”
Many other students echoed this frustration with members of Congress. Despite a lack of action from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, high schoolers across the country are eager to continue pushing for stricter regulations on gun ownership.
“We are teenagers,” says Montgomery Blair student Sarah McKenzie, 14. “We are going to be the next generation that’s voting. We are going to be the next generation that is in the White House. We have to tell people that we are going to be a generation of action, that we can’t go on in silence, that we’re going to be the ones that speak loud enough so that everyone can hear us.”