During my daily commute through the nation’s capital, I passed a group of high schoolers sitting in a circle outside the White House. They were swaying and humming, and I was trying to figure out if this was a morning yoga session or a religious vigil when I noticed the array of signs lining the pavement.
They read anything from “Are we next?” and “Guns are bad” to more outlandish statements like “Why don’t you shoot me while you’re at it?”
High school walkouts like this have taken place across the country during the last week, following a school shooting on Feb. 14, when a 19-year-old shot and killed 17 people in Florida’s Stoneman Douglas High School.
Stoneman Douglas was one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history, so it’s natural the nation is asking: “What do we do next?” But for some reason, people are pointing their cameras at the survivors, as well as high schoolers from across the nation, expecting them to answer that question.
And they’ve responded in kind, staging walkouts and protests in an attempt to make their voices heard. In many ways, these high schoolers’ display of passion and strength is inspiring. Their anger is understandable. Too many at too young an age have become the victims of twisted, evil men. They recognize that something about the culture they’re growing up in is amiss. I applaud their demand for change and their desire to make a difference. But asking teenagers what the next step forward should be regarding gun control and policy reform is, well, pointless.
I decided to stop and sit with the high schoolers gathered outside the White House as they chanted “Hey-Oh-Hey-Oh, the NRA has got to go!”
Yasmin Derrada, 17, is a senior at McLean High School in Virginia and helped organize the school’s walkout. I asked her why she was protesting the National Rifle Association in particular.
“I think it’s kind of disgusting how politicians are still accepting donations from the NRA,” she replied. “It’s just to show their power and to get rid of the idea that assault rifles have to be banned.”
Elena Perez, 16, a junior at McLane told me she wasn’t “okay with the idea they propagate that makes people think guns are okay.”
“It’s not okay to make citizens think they can have AR-15s for everyday use,” she said.
I then asked the two girls what the NRA was. Their response: “Well we’re not the most informed people. We just know they deal with guns and the sale of guns, and that’s just not okay.”
Many of these students don’t know what they’re protesting against or why they’re protesting in the first place. All they know is that they’re angry, confused, and they don’t want to be next. Conservatives shouldn’t dismiss them, because their voices do matter. But the left also shouldn’t try to use them to push forward sweeping gun reforms.
One of their best chances at success was in the Florida legislature, involving a bill that would limit the sale of assault rifles similar to the one used to kill 17 of their classmates and teachers. But the bill failed — even with the daily protests, pressure from the media, and national attention.
The media is using these kids’ narratives to push gun control down the nation’s throat. Although we should be open to all gun policy suggestions, and we should debate the merits of each, we should not use high school kids to make that point. They’re just kids. And while that doesn’t disqualify them or make them less important, it should make us wary. Because if you sit down and speak with them, you’ll find — just as I did — that these are frustrated, hurt, traumatized kids who want to make a difference, but don’t know how.
Kaylee McGhee is a junior stuying politics.