Standing Up? Walking Out? Packer Students Debate Gun Violence
This year, February 14th sadly served not only as a day of candy hearts, but as a day of horrific violence. It was on this day that Nikolas Cruz shot and killed seventeen people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. While the tragedy was undoubtedly felt more acutely by members of the growing community of those personally affected by school shootings, the entire country was impacted. Everyone, children and adults alike, was tasked with considering their own stances on gun control.
Upper School students were sent a survey concerning both their attitudes surrounding gun control laws and their emotional responses to the shooting. A large majority of respondents viewed this moment in time as one during which they had a responsibility to voice their opinions and, for those who find themselves at odds with the current regulations, engender change.
Of the 143 students who responded to the survey, 67.1% reported that they had consistently thought about the Florida shooting since its occurrence. However, only 20.3% of respondents said that the shooting had affected their comfort level at school. While a relatively small percentage, the feelings of the latter group reflect a generally heightened sense of fear.
“Whenever I hear a loud noise during class or someone running down the hallway, I get scared,” a freshman revealed.
93.7% of respondents support stricter gun laws in the United States, and when asked what role, if any, students should play in the movement, many were enthusiastic in their answers. A common suggested course of action was for students to vote, both in midterm and general elections.
“At the end of the day, you’ve just got to vote. Students get so caught up in ‘hosting dialogues’ and marching, which is all super important, but they often have little interest in… understanding and discussing policy,” one senior pointed out.
Others were inspired by the initiative that students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had taken to publicly share their opinions. While we as a Packer community do not share that same personal connection to the issue, many respondents were supportive of and excited about this sudden surge of student advocacy.
“[H]igh school students have been inspired to be more active than almost any other demographic in response to this tragedy,” wrote Jonah Sollins-Devlin (‘19). “In this time when young people suddenly have a voice, it is incredibly important to use it.”
When asked whether or not they planned on participating in the school walk out on March 14, the goal of which is to advocate for stricter gun laws, 56.6% committed to attending, 34.3% are undecided, and 9.1% are not going. Among those going, their reasons for doing so placed an emphasis on the importance of communicating their viewpoint to the government.
“[I want to show] Congress and the NRA…that we are serious about making gun laws stricter,” wrote George Rukan (18).
While there was a general sense of enthusiasm surrounding the protest, some students were wary of attending due to its specific ideology.
“I would [go] if the movement supported a more moderate ideology,” wrote Caleb Sciannella (‘19). “But as of now it seems to be representing an anti-gun movement rather than a pro regulation movement.”
Upper School History Teacher Dr. Ryan Carey grew up in rural Coos Bay, Oregon and San Angelo, Texas. He received his first firearm for his eleventh birthday, and began hunting with his three brothers and stepfather shortly after. Dr. Carey became a member of the National Rifle Association, the NRA, that same year, but described the NRA at the time not as a political organization, but rather as a sportsman’s group. Neither Dr. Carey nor his brothers or stepfather are still members.
Though guns were an important and considerable part of his upbringing, Dr. Carey supports stricter gun regulations, including the ban of semi-automatic and automatic weapons. He explained, though, that in order to have a legitimate voice, those who do not have a personal relationship to guns must educate themselves on the topic and attempt to immerse themselves in the culture.
“Speaking out against [guns] in a strident way is making the problem worse, is building an obstacle, or digging a chasm deeper,” he explained.
Similarly to Dr. Carey, some students emphasized the importance of engaging in a conversation that genuinely considers all perspectives to ensure that everyone is able to better understand and respond to divergent opinions. This sentiment mirrors the commonly held belief that Packer and its students often fail to acknowledge or respect the ideas of conservatives in our community.
“I think it’s important for students at Packer to understand that there is another side,” wrote Max Kern (‘18). “Some ideas that make sense in our bubble, like complete bans on guns, can cause the gap in this debate to grow.”
“If you can’t respect those with different beliefs, you can’t change anyone’s mind,” another senior explained.
Regardless of our political ideologies, the school shooting in Florida struck every person in an individual, and often powerful, way. It has prompted unprecedented activism, and has helped to solidify the beliefs of many. It is now our responsibility to take advantage of our right to express our opinion, whatever it may be, in a peaceful manner, and to remain educated on the policies surrounding gun control regulations in order to legitimize and strengthen our voices.