Students across Florida (and the nation) are making their voices heard as thousands are walking out of classrooms in support of gun reform.
The demonstrations are taking place exactly one week following a deadly massacre that occurred in Parkland, Florida, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Last Wednesday, 17 individuals were killed by gunman Nikolas Cruz, who opened fire on his former classmates with a deadly assault rifle.
Many people are calling for reforms to our current gun laws — including banning assault weapons, similar to a ban that was implemented from 1994 to 2004. Several signs held by students are adorned with the hashtag #NeverAgain in support of the campaign created by Parkland students to push for legislative changes.
“It was pretty tragic what happened, so enough is enough. We got to make a change,” an unidentified student told the local ABC news affiliate.
The demonstrations in Florida are being replicated elsewhere across the country. Students in Minneapolis, Minnesota, have scheduled similar walkouts, for example, in solidarity with their peers in Florida.
“This time, it’s really registered. It could be us next,” ninth-grader Zoe Chinn said. “We can’t wait any longer. Something has to change. It has to be immediate.”
Closer to Washington D.C., students at Montgomery Blair High School in Montgomery County, Maryland, planned to march from their school to the U.S. Capitol building. They're being joined by at least two other high schools in the area.
Students at Oak Park and River Forest High School in Chicago also joined in the protests. The school even told teachers and administrators to allow students to do so.
"They have a right to protest. Our goal is to ensure that they are kept safe in the process," a note from Principal Nathaniel Rouse to faculty read.
Not every school has been so accommodating. While some high schoolers have decided to exercise their First Amendment rights, others could face punishments for doing so. Needville Independent School District in Needville, Texas, is telling students they will be suspended for three days if they choose to demonstrate.
“We will discipline no matter if it is one, fifty, or five hundred students involved,” the district wrote in a Facebook note to parents. “All will be suspended for three days and parent notes will not alleviate the discipline.”
Despite that district’s obdurate choice to limit students’ free speech rights, teenagers across the nation should be celebrated for what they’re doing. They have witnessed the violence that plagues our nation, some of them firsthand, and understand better than most that solutions can be crafted to deter more killings in their classrooms.
The question remains whether lawmakers in their states or in Washington will listen to them. Those lawmakers should be forewarned: Many of the students will be of voting age by the time the 2020 (or even the 2018) elections roll around.