By Isabel Campos
Widespread protests against gun violence have forced many schools to question if they should allow their students to participate. How have St. Mary’s students responded to the movement? Would St. Mary’s administrators allow students to walkout? Find out here!
The United States has the highest gun to person ratio in the world: 101 guns for every 100 people.
This ratio has led to an ongoing debate over gun control and the Second Amendment’s implications in today’s modern society. While many people argue in favor of gun rights for hunting, sport, and self-defense, many others believe that stricter gun laws are necessary to prevent deadly mass shootings. Since 2012, there has been one shooting at a school per week, with 17 having already occurred in 2018 alone. On Feb. 14, 2018, a school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. left 17 dead, sparking gun control protests and conversations all across the country — and here at St. Mary’s.
Claire Lee (10) says, “It is like when you set multiple alarms and you keep snoozing them, [the Parkland Shooting] is this last alarm that you just can’t ignore.” Thousands of students across the country agreed with Claire and took part the #Enough! National School Walkout on March 14 at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes to commemorate the 17 people who lost their lives in the Stoneman Douglas shooting.
These student protests have caused controversy for many school administrations who had to make decisions about whether students should be permitted participate in school walkouts without consequence.
At Needville Independent School District near Houston, students who protested on campus faced the consequence of a three-day suspension. In response, however, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, composed of college admission officers, urged colleges to state if they would disapprove of students who are given suspensions for joining the protests. Rhodes College, Tulane University, Yale University and Dartmouth College are some of the many schools that publicly announced that they will not penalize students for protesting.
St. Mary’s students were not able to participate in the National School Walkout on March 14 because of spring break, which has had many students wondering if the St. Mary’s administrators would have allowed it anyway.
When asked about the feasibility of an efficient demonstration, Dr. Steakley says, “As a school, it is imperative to teach responsible citizenship, which includes the important role of activism. Our students are becoming more informed citizens by talking through disagreement, hearing multiple perspectives, and then making decisions on how to respond. It is my hope that if students want to participate in a protest that involves a disruption of the school day, they would act responsibly and work with the administration to organize and plan. Would the school support a protest against school violence? Absolutely! We are all on the same page about that; we all want to make schools safer. When students feel strongly about other topics, we can find ways to support them as well. It is important for the school to help young women who are finding their voices figure out how to be civically engaged.”
Even though St. Mary’s students were not able to participate in the March 14 protest, several students participated in the Memphis March for Our Lives on March 24. Mikayla Jones (10), comments “It was really cool to see people from all around Memphis to come together to fight for a cause. I really felt the unity from those who were there.”
In response to the Stoneman Douglas shootings, students have taken the lead in starting conversations about school safety and gun violence across the country. At St. Mary’s, Erin Katz (12) led a fireside chat on Feb. 5. She also raised money for the Stonemen Douglas Victims Fund by selling hamantaschen, triangular filled cookies traditional to the Jewish holiday Purim. Speaking about her involvement, Erin says she has a personal connection to the students from Parkland. She explains “a couple of my friends go to school at Douglas, so when I heard the news it was hard to comprehend. I think this made me a lot more aware and into reading things about it. I wanted to open up a conversation about what is going on and do something as opposed to nothing.”
The Network for Public Education is organizing a National Day of Action to Prevent Gun Violence on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. Once enough students create a plan to protest on this particular date, then it is possible that the St. Mary’s community can join beside other schools to combat gun violence.
As more protests are organized and the debate on this topic continues, American lawmakers are considering new gun legislation. Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 7026 which provides schools with funds to develop better mental health and safety programs, raises the minimum age to buy firearms from 18 to 21, bans the sale of bump stocks, requires a three-day waiting period for gun purchases and allows some teachers to be armed. The National Rifle Association has filed a lawsuit calling the new Florida law unconstitutional. Lawmakers on both sides of the argument are now left to resolve which decisions on gun laws will enact the most effective changes for the safety of the general public.