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Voices / Dispatch

Keeping the cause alive

BUHS students who organized gun control vigil say outrage is slowly turning into action

Ajenai Hampton is a young writer who comes to Vermont by way of San Francisco.

Brattleboro

It’s been a few weeks since more than one million students across the nation, including at Brattleboro Union High School, walked out of their schools to show that they would no longer tolerate gun violence.

The protests on March 14 demanded changes to the system of laws in place that make it easy for dangerous people to get access to assault weapons.

The event that inspired the protests was the Feb. 14 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in which 17 students and staff were killed and more were injured.

Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, there have been more than 180 additional school shootings across the United States. At least one major protest or march for gun control has occurred every year since then, yet no significant change has happened to stop the violence.

The cycle of violence and outrage had become common now — a shooting takes place, people call for tougher gun laws, and nothing happens. Soon, the incident is forgotten, and the momentum for change is slowed — until the next shooting happens. Then the cycle starts up again.

What happened at Stoneman Douglas, however, has begun to change the cycle of forgetfulness. As the survivors of the Florida shooting have become more vocal and more visible in their demands for safer schools and sensible gun laws, BUHS students are standing with them by refusing to let people stop thinking about the Parkland shooting until real change is made.

* * *

Why has it taken so long for any significant change to happen?

“The U.S. has this thing where we want the freedom to do whatever we want. People feel that when [their right to guns] is taken away, their fundamental liberties are taken away,” says Lucia Morey, one of the three organizers of the March 14 BUHS walkout.

Another organizer, Cassie Dunn, believes that there is also another reason why Congress seems to be refusing to listen to the demand for change.

“They’re all supported by the NRA,” she said. “So it’s hard for them to make concrete actions when they know they’re backing that stake.”

To make sure that change happens and the cycle of violence ends, the students are willing to fight for gun control nonstop until they see results.

Morey feels that the more people educate themselves on the cause, the more room for compromise there is.

“We’re not asking for no guns,” she said. “We’re asking for [no more of the guns] that, right now, are being used to kill massive amounts of people.”

Molly Durling, another student organizer, is representing the student body in the school board’s discussion of gun control.

* * *

The activism has had an effect in Vermont. On April 11, Gov. Phil Scott signed three gun-control bills into law.

The most sweeping bill is S.55, which raises the age to legally purchase firearms from 16 to 21, institutes mandatory background checks prior to all firearms sales, bans bump stocks, and bans the sale and ownership of gun magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

The other bills signed by Scott were H.422, which gives police the power to confiscate firearms from people cited for domestic violence, and S.221, which gives judges the power to remove firearms from those who pose a clear and immediate danger to themselves or others.

Pro-gun groups immediately attacked the legislation, particularly S.55. On April 18, a coalition of outdoors clubs, a gun shop, and a gun owner filed a suit in the Washington Civil Division of Vermont Superior Court, calling for the law’s repeal.

Morey says that she is determined to keep speaking out as real change on the gun issues continues to be made, and recommends that people take the responsibility to stay active.

She encourages everyone to keep the discussion going about gun control and the connections to physical and mental health with everyone, even gun owners.

“Don’t let yourself forget.” Morey says. “If you don’t forget, and everyone decides that they won’t forget, then as a collective nation, we won’t.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #457 (Wednesday, May 2, 2018). This story appeared on page E3.

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