Parkland shooting shows power of youth political engagement

Regardless of backlash, students continue to inspire change

An AR-15 disappearing.
Photo: 
Credit: 
Photo illustration by Josh Granovsky

Youth political engagement is something that’s seemingly encouraged by everyone, but the past couple weeks have proven to us that politicians are willing to undermine the younger generation when they argue against their views. 

On Feb. 14, a shooter killed 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. After the horrific incident, responses were seemingly alike those following any other mass shooting. People were sending prayers and thoughts to the families and students involved and Republican Party lawmakers were stressing it still wasn’t the time to talk about gun reform.

This has been the same pattern since the first mass shooting of this nature in 1996 at Columbine High School, and has been repeated over and over again after shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Pulse Nightclub, a Las Vegas concertand countless others. 

Ultimately, this shooting has turned out to be different than those in the past because we’re finally seeing some change, and it’s due completely to the efforts and strength of students from Stoneman Douglas. 

Following the shooting, students from the school immediately began calling for gun law reforms — most notably, Emma González and David Hogg.

By using their voices, these students have generated more conversation and potential change of gun laws than ever before. This triumph is especially 

impressive considering the House, the Senate and the White House are all or majorly Republican-occupied. 

In turn, the response of many current politicians to this millennial political engagement has been completely atrocious. Instead of giving credit to these 15 and 16-year-olds for their ability to be so strong after facing trauma, some politicians reactions have been to try to delegitimize the students. 

The biggest example of this occurred when Donald Trump Jr. liked a tweet from a district secretary of Republican state representative claiming Hogg was a paid “crises actor”. This is a common right-wing conspiracy theory that floats around after most mass shootings — the belief that the left hires actors to be at the scene of these tragedies to capture media attention and push their anti-gun policies. These claims have never been legitimized, but what makes it problematic this time is that these theories are being engaged with by influential politicians. 

Politicians are going to far lengths to attempt to delegitimize the extremely brave students, and it’s becoming a concern for the future of youth political engagement. Yes, students like Hogg and González have been able to continue their fight regardless of backlash, but seeing adult politicians going against teenagers has the potential to discourage young people to use their voices in the future. 

Thanks to youth stepping forward — namely González’s speech at a rally following the shooting calling for “no more BS” and the many students willing to talk to TV networks about their experiences — there’s been more done for gun control reform in the last couple weeks than there has been in years. 

CNN hosted a town hall about gun control on Feb. 22, Stoneman Douglas students organized a “March For Our Lives” in Washington D.C. on March 24 and most recently, Dick’s Sporting Goods — one of America’s largest gun retailers — announced their plans to stop selling assault-style weapons or selling to anyone under 21 years old, regardless of state laws. 

While these changes aren’t the only ones we need to put an end to these senseless shootings, it’s progress nonetheless and wouldn’t have happened without youth engagement.

The events following the shooting have demonstrated two really important things. The first is that, contrary to many assumptions, millennial and post-millennial generations are interested in being politically involved and active. The second is that people, no matter how young, are capable of creating change. 

González, Hogg and many other students from Stoneman Douglas have shown that anyone can influence positive change if they’re passionate. Hopefully, that will be encouragement enough for future generations to use their voices, despite the potential for discouragement from politicians.

Students from Stoneman Douglas haven’t only created change for themselves — they also continue to pave the way for youth to be taken seriously in politics in the future. 

Corrections

The photo caption has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of an AR-15.

The Journal regrets the error.

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