Galvanized by Parkland, these student leaders aren’t waiting for someone else to drive the conversation on school shootings
Following the February 14 murders of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the national mood was distinctly different than after previous school shootings. From the local level to the White House, there was talk of the possibility of change (though later walked back by the president), the culpability of the National Rifle Association, and maybe some common-sense gun-law reform.
What was different this time? In large measure, it was the involvement of aggrieved and grieving Parkland students — charismatic, media-savvy, and willing to stand their rhetorical ground. Motivated by their example, students nationwide quickly organized protest events: a March 14 school walkout; a March for Our Lives event 10 days later.
Will these actions have any impact? Will adult policymakers take them seriously? Will this create a momentum felt at the ballot box in November? Desert Companion talked to three local student leaders about their very different plans to drive change in this possibly new era.
Silverado High School
A senior, Taylor Lane has become a gun-control activist. She was at the forefront of the localized #NeverAgain movement as the main orchestrator of Silverado’s March 14 walkout, and the community outreach organizer for the Las Vegas March for Our Lives.
This isn’t a new issue for Lane. From hearing about Sandy Hook as a middle-schooler to the close-to-home October 1 massacre, she’s always been concerned about the horrors of mass shootings. However, Lane truly became inspired to take a stand after seeing videos of Parkland student and activist Emma Gonzalez speaking against the NRA.
“I just want people to continue to be aware of the gun violence in our country, and remember that it isn’t normal, and that it’s not okay that this continues to happen,” Lane says.
Following Parkland, Lane made an Instagram page titled “CCSD Walkout” to encourage local students to participate in the national school-walkout movement and March for Our Lives, and educate them about their rights to free speech.
Coming from a family of firearm owners, Lane believes lawmakers should strengthen background checks and regulations rather than ban guns.
In addition to fellow classmates, she’s received support from her mother. “I think it’s important that parents support the kids,” says Sandi Lane. “All change starts with one person having the courage to stand up and voice their opposition or their opinion.”
Taylor Lane turns 18 in May — she’s been accepted to the journalism and communications school at Arizona State University — and plans to persuade others to head to the polls in November to keep NRA-friendly candidates out of office.
Lane spoke to more than 100 students — some carrying 17 signs featuring the faces of the victims at Parkland — who congregated under Silverado’s flagpole during the walkout. She talked not only about the importance of protesting, but also of participating in future elections.
“If (politicians aren’t) going to change their mind, one letter isn’t really going to make a difference,” Lane says, referring to Nevada Senator Dean Heller. “That’s why voting is the strongest power that constituents can hold over their incumbent.”
Palo Verde High School
As student body president, Connor Leeman is working to open a dialogue among his peers. While many high school students opted for walkouts in response to the Parkland shooting, Leeman, a senior, tried to steer his school in a different direction. He worked with Palo’s administration to use the half-hour of mentoring period on March 14 to permit student-led debates addressing gun violence. It’s better, he argues, to use this time getting different sides to talk to each other.
“It’s a student-led discussion on gun violence, where people can take it any direction they want to,” he says. “We’re going to empower kids to lead a discussion on their own.”
He says he notices this problem on all government levels: People in power, who have the capacity to make change, can’t seem to sit down and compromise. He wants his peers to understand that civil dialogue can be had even when there is a disagreement.
“You can go and protest, but it’s not gonna do anything unless you can sit down at the table and say, ‘We want to compromise on this issue. We won’t take away all of these things, but we can compromise,’” he says.
“One of the things I want to focus on as a student leader is making people see that people who hold a different perspective, they’re their friends, they’re fellow classmates, they have similar interests in a lot of different things, they’re the same people.”
He says walkouts have a purpose, but ultimately they separate people on either side of the issue, surrounded only by those they agree with, leaving no avenue for conversation with those they don’t.
However, he is hesitant to say that this dialogue will impact the elections this fall. The momentum has to carry beyond the March 24 protest in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. If apathy sets in, particularly over summer, he believes Parkland will become like all the other shootings, which resulted in little, if any, change. Jakub Cernoch
UNLV junior Faryn Duncan read news of the Valentine’s Day shooting in Parkland, Florida, with disbelief. It hasn’t even been six months, she thought. How could this be happening again?
Her reference point — like that of countless other Las Vegans — was the October 1 shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival. Duncan had been near the stage where country singer Jason Aldean was performing when the first round of gunfire hit people nearby. She escaped physically unharmed, but forever changed.
Scrolling through Parkland updates and watching the number of victims rise, Duncan was transported back to October 2. She called to check on the friend who’d been at the concert with her. She thought about the haunting vigilance that now prompts her to plan escape routes and hiding places wherever she goes.
“Not that I’m much older than those kids,” the 20-year-old Duncan says, “but now they’re going to have to feel that, too, every time they walk into a school or a mall or anywhere there’s a large crowd. … I hate that other people have to feel that, especially kids.”
But her sadness and anger gave way to hope and resolve after she watched the video of Parkland student Emma Gonzalez speak passionately about gun control, during a rally three days after the school shooting. Duncan read up on gun laws. She donated to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas kids’ GoFundMe campaign. She decided to show her solidarity with them by joining the March for Our Lives protest. She’d have joined the school walkout, too, if she had class that day. She intends to stay involved until something changes for the better.
“I don’t know much about politics,” she says, “but with this movement, I know what I’m talking about because I lived it. I have the facts. With this issue, I think I can make a difference.”