By Bryan Nakata
Survivors of the Parkland high school shooting told a Seattle audience on Sunday at Temple de Hirsch Sinai they must act on gun regulation, lobbying practices and voting-rights issues before more mass gun violence occurs.
“I think that this should show as a lesson to everyone around the world to not be reactive for a situation like this, but you need to make sure to do every preventative measure to make sure this doesn’t happen,” Alex Wind, 18, said about the shooting he experienced in February.
Wind and two other classmates, David Hogg, 18, and Jammal Lemy, 20, spoke as representatives of March for Our Lives, an organization that grew from the activism of students who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 people and wounded 17 more. The movement led to multiple worldwide demonstrations on March 24, demanding gun reform including one rally in Washington, D.C. with hundreds of thousands in attendance.
Shelly Rosen, 54, a Seattle woman who attended the event, said people in her generation inherited many civil rights but haven’t contributed enough for future generations.
”I felt that we had been gifted this pie and we haven’t kept our end of the deal,” Rosen said. “Our kids are going to have to move it forward and pick up our complacency.”
The trio of speakers also promoted Glimmer of Hope, a new book written by 25 prominent members of the March for Our Lives organization. Many of the authors were students during the Parkland shooting or have been affected by gun violence. Each member writes different sections, poems, or excerpts detailing the moments after the shooting, speaking with politicians, marching in Washington D.C. and campaigning for gun reform.
“I realized that it really humanized our movement because you can see that we don’t have to be perfect all the time,” Lemy said in an interview before the speech. “And I think that we really want to show with ‘Glimmer of Hope’ that this was in no way perfect. There was bickering, there was nights where we were like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’”
Further demonstrating their dedication to the movement, 100 percent of the authors’ proceeds from the book and a percentage of Penguin Random House profits will be donated to the March For Our Lives fund.
Since the shooting in Parkland, the South Florida Sun Sentinel has found that 16 states have changed their laws related to guns, and 19 corporations have cut ties with gun-lobby groups. While it is difficult to directly attribute this to March for Our Lives, the organization’s i large marches, school walkouts and activism by multiple celebrities has drawn a lot of media attention.
However, nationwide support for stricter gun regulation has dropped since it reached all-time highs immediately following the Parkland shooting, when 67 percent of respondents in a Gallup poll said they favored stricter gun laws. The number has fallen to 61 percent, according to the same poll conducted in October.
During the panel, the survivors encouraged people to vote, to speak to local politicians and to vote out anyone who accepts money from the National Rifle Association. Despite their tough stance on the NRA and feuds with Republican U.S. senators, the members of March for Our Lives insist they’re not a partisan group.
“We as a people are not right or left–we are in the center of humanity,” Hogg said. “This issue revolves around public health. This is not about being pro-gun or anti-gun in the same way that people that advocated for safer cars and roads weren’t anti-car or pro-car. We’re not anti-gun or pro-gun, we’re pro-people-not-dying.”
“Finding any solution to ending gun violence is what I want,” Wind said. “If arming every teacher and putting gun vending machines on every street corner actually worked, I would be all for that.”
The panel members addressed Initiative 1639, which will is on the Washington state ballot this year. If passed, the initiative would raise the purchasing age of a rifle to 21, enhance background checks, require a purchaser to complete a course on firearm safety and create more rules for secure gun storage.
It includes a 10-day waiting period from when the gun is purchased to when it is received. According to a 2017 study by researchers at Harvard Business School, waiting periods can reduce the number of gun-related deaths by nearly 17 percent.
“The important thing to remember there is that’s not just a percentage. That’s hundreds of people that wouldn’t die,” Hogg said. “We have a chance to stand up to the National Rifle Association and stand up for public safety and public health by advocating for I-1639 on November 6.”
Washington ranks No. 39 in states with the highest gun-related violence. Still, 39 children – age 17 or younger – were killed by guns in Washington in 2015. That is one child every nine days, according to King County Department of Public Health. In King County, four percent of 10th- and 12th-grade students reported having carried a gun on at least one day during the last 30 days in 2016, the department also reports.
Oct. 24 also marks four years since the shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, in which four people were fatally injured before the shooter took his own life. Hogg emphasized being allies for that community and the need to come together to enact change.
“Sadly, we are all part of this club now,” Hogg said. “A couple days after the shooting when I met a Columbine survivor, they were the first person to describe that this is a club that no one wants to be a part of – that is growing. I know that we’re all in this club together, but we can work together to make sure it doesn’t get any bigger.”
Different members of March for Our Lives take turns traveling to speak at the events. Some students, including Wind, are still in high school and travel mostly on the weekends. The tour, which began in Los Angeles on Sept. 28, travels to 26 major cities across the U.S. and ends in Parkland on Nov. 6. Along the way, the activists visit schools, churches, festivals and other events. Lemy said he has plans to rest when the tour ends, but not for long.
“This isn’t going to be the last election,” Lemy said. “We’ll continue to shift the culture so that movements like this don’t have to exist for the young people of this country to be engaged.”
The tour stop in Seattle was particularly significant for the speakers because one of their murdered classmates, Carmen Schentrup, was accepted by the University of Washington last year. Her parents say she planned to become a medical researcher and wanted to find a cure for ALS.
“I had a class with her last year and my freshman year as well,” Wind said. “When I woke up the next day and saw her name I just thought there’s no way that it could be her. There’s no way that it could be any of those 17 people…”
“Do not wait to wake up the next day to find out that people you know are the next ones.”
Voter registration by mail and online is now closed for the November election, but you can still register in person until Oct. 29. See where to register here.
All photos by the author.