Young Women Are Demanding an End to Gun Violence in the Wake of Last Week’s School Shooting

In the wake of each mass shooting in America, there is a sequence of events that takes place across the country: First, there is unified heartbreak and horror. Then, there is a surge of passion and mobilization for gun control reform. Eventually, after the initial impact and shock of the shooting dies down, so too do the fiery campaigns to change gun laws—until the next shooting takes place and the cycle begins again.

But this time, something is different. The horrific mass shooting that left 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida last week—the 18th school shooting in the 51 days of 2018 so far—has mobilized students, parents, teachers, activists and organizations like never before.

The students of Stoneman Douglas are now organizing a massive protest called the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. for March 24; they’re also planning a classroom walk-out in April to demand gun law reform. They launched a parent movement, #NeverAgain, to fight for gun law reform nationally. On Presidents’ Day, students held a die-in in front of the White House; this week, they’re attending Florida town halls with legislators to hold them accountable for failing to act to reform gun laws.

Enough is finally enough—and women and girls are leading the push to make sure this mass shooting, and the conversation it ushered in about common-sense gun law reform, is the last of its kind.

“We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks,” Emma Gonzalez, one of the students who survived the shooting, declared this weekend in an impassioned speech. “Not because we’re going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America, but because, just as David said, we are going to be the last mass shooting.”

Gonzalez isn’t the only student raising her voice in the wake of the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. Others took to Twitter to combat misinformation and politically-motivated statements downplaying the tragedy by NRA-backed lawmakers. “As a student who was inside the school while an active shooter was wreaking terror and havoc on my teachers and classmates with an AR-15,” Sarah Chadwick tweeted in response to statements by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), “I would just like to say, YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND.”

Another student, Kyra, has been tweeting since the shooting about the incredible strength of her classmates and larger community at Stoneman Douglas. She also tweeted directly at Rubio, Florida Governor Rick Scott and President Trump—who made a speech in Florida after the shooting in which he never said the word “guns,” instead blaming the shooting entirely on mental health challenges faced by the shooter. “We don’t need your thoughts [and] prayers,” she posted in one tweet. “We need action. We need reform. The survivors of a massacre demand this. Classmates demand this. The community demands this. I refuse to let my friends die in vain. I refuse to let this happen again.” In another tweet, she wrote: “despite having our hearts ripped out of our chests. Despite losing our friends and coaches. Despite living through a nightmare. As students of Douglas, we are the voice of this generation. And I’ll be damned if anyone thinks they can silence us.”

The young women and girls facing off on gun violence now are also echoed by their mothers, aunts and other community members who are rising up to demand that no other child’s life is lost in a mass shooting.

Lori Alhadeff, the mother of 14-year-old victim Alyssa Alhadeff went on national television to beg President Trump to do something about gun control. “President Trump, please do something,” she shouted, looking squarely into the camera. “Do something. Action. We need it now. These kids need safety now.”

In an open letter, the aunt of another victim of the shooting, 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg, decried the National Rifle Association (NRA) and politicians who refuse to buck their demands to pass gun laws as complicit in her niece’s death. “My family does not want your hopes and prayers,” Abbie Youkilis wrote. “We want your action. Join us in fighting the NRA. Join us in deposing any politician who cares more about campaign contributions than my beautiful Jaime. Join us in supporting leaders who will bravely fight for our children’s lives.”

Women’s organizations and female lawmakers are also forming the front lines. The Women’s March is organizing a separate national school walk-out to honor the victims in Florida and send a message to Congress. Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America has organized a campaign to kick out lawmakers beholden to the gun lobbyLawmakers have had enough time to come around to common sense, and we’re done waiting,” the campaign website warns. “We must now elect leaders who will finally act to save lives from gun violence.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is planning to introduce legislation making the minimum age to purchase rifles 21 instead of 18 and has called on Republicans to open the floor for and join Democratic lawmakers in passing legislation to ban so-called bump stocks. Some activists have also called on Congressional lawmakers to renew the now-expired assault weapons ban Feinstein authored in 1994—a fight she also attempted in 2013.

Women of all ages are serving as the backbone, the face and the sheer force of the movement to reform gun laws. And if the history of women-led activism can speak to the likelihood of our success, the odds are in our favor. The Stonewall Riot, which sparked the Gay Rights Movement, was led by two trans women of color. The Women’s March was the largest protest in history and was formed, founded and carried out by women. MADD, or Mothers Against Drunk Driving, has single-handedly reduced drunk driving deaths by 50 percent since they were founded in 1980. And the #MeToo movement, launched by Tarana Burke and re-invigorated by Alyssa Milano and other celebrities, has become a global force to end sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation—and led to the creation of a star-studded sister campaign, Time’s Up, to provide legal defense resources to victims.

“We’re not going to let the 17 bullets we just took take us down,” declares the March For Our Lives mission statement, written by young survivors of gun violence now determined to find a solution. “If anything, we’re going to keep running and lead the rest of the nation behind us.”

Women get it done, and changing the gun laws in America will be no different. If the word of the year in 2017 was feminism, perhaps in 2018 it will be a collective, exhausted and righteous utterance of “enough.”

Tiernan Hebron is a Los Angeles-based activist and writer and an Editorial Intern at Ms. Her work has appeared in LA Magazine, ATTN, Feministing, Galore, Tribe de Mama, LadyClever, Elite Daily and Adolescent. Tiernan is a sexual and reproductive rights peer educator for Amnesty International and manages digital communications for DIGDEEP and the Los Angeles Black Worker Center. You can find her being very opinionated on Instagram.

Carmen Rios is the Digital Editor at Ms. and Contributing Editor and Co-Founder of Argot Magazine; her work has also appeared at BuzzFeed, Bitch, Mic, MEL, Everyday Feminism and Autostraddle, where she was previously Community Director and Feminism Editor. Like everyone else in LA, she once had a podcast; unlike everyone else, she stays pretty zen in traffic. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.

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