A Havelock High School student will be among the thousands of young people rallying in Washington, D.C., Saturday during the March for Our Lives demonstration to advocate for gun control and school safety
Survivors of the February school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., organized the March for Our Lives with the support of Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun law reform advocacy group. Participants will march along Pennsylvania Avenue starting at noon Saturday. The demonstration is expected to draw as many as 500,000 people to the nation’s capital.
Havelock High senior Kaley Simcox said she decided to take part in the March for Our Lives to make her voice heard in the gun control debate.
“I just think guns shouldn’t be involved in schools, and with all the things happening nothing has been done. There needs to be a change and we just want people to know we have an opinion and it’s important,” said Simcox.
The march marks the second wave of teenage activism against gun violence in the wake of the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla. Close to a million students stood up and streamed out of classrooms across the country last week as part of the National School Walkout.
Simcox said many of her fellow high school students are politically engaged and concerned about the incidents of gun violence.
“We know if our friends are Republicans or Democrats, but everyone is on the same page where it’s like something needs to be done and there needs to be more gun control,” she said.
Social media, said Simcox, has played a crucial role in the organization of events such as March for Our Lives.
“It’s a great way for everyone to know what’s happening and that’s what those kids did. They posted about the shooting and they recorded it while it was happening, so it makes it a more real thing,” she said.
There is some evidence that student protests have already had an effect on the gun control debate.
The Florida Legislature recently passed the first gun restrictions in that state in more than 20 years. The law increased the age to purchase a firearm to 21, instituted a three-day waiting period, and created a system for police to petition to remove guns from someone deemed a threat. It also put millions of dollars toward school safety and mental health initiatives.
Dozens of other states have passed new gun safety measures in the aftermath of Parkland or are considering new restrictions.
The Trump administration has also taken steps to ban bump stocks and released a school safety plan that includes a proposal to arm teachers.
Asked about her thoughts on proposals to put guns in the hands of classroom teachers, Simcox said she believes the idea is misguided. She said she would prefer to see an additional student resource officer assigned to her school.
“I don’t want teachers to be armed,” she said. “I don’t think guns belong in schools and by putting them with teachers, it’s not their jobs. They didn’t sign up to have a gun on them. They signed up to teach students.”
Discussing specific changes she would like to see made to national gun laws, Simcox said she would push for more emphasis on mental health screenings and age restrictions for gun buyers.
“If we have a drinking age of 21, why can a 18-year-old go and buy a gun at Walmart,” asked Simcox.
Simcox pointed to campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association as one reason politicians have been reluctant to address gun law changes.
“I know a lot of them are funded by the NRA and they’ve donated a lot of money to their campaigns and they don’t want to go against that and get that money revoked,” she said.
The threat of a school shooting is something that students nationwide have to think about now, said Simcox, even at Havelock High.
“When we did the walkout last week and we came back, the fire alarm went off. Somebody had just pushed the wrong button in the office but it was like this instant sense of fear,” she said.
Unlike the aftermath of past school shootings, when gun control talk raged for a short period and then disappeared, Simcox said she hopes this time will be different.
“I definitely noticed in Twitter when it (Parkland shooting) first happened it was really big. Everyone was posting about it, but even today I can see there’s a lot less about it. But school shootings are still happening, so it’s not going to just go away,” said Simcox.
Simcox will be traveling to D.C. with her father, Kevin, who said he supports his daughter's stand.
“I think it’s great she’s going to be part of the process,” he said. “It’s an individual decision a couple of hundred thousand kids are going to make that could ultimately spark some change. That’s the way every grassroots movement has worked, from Civil Rights on.”
Simcox said she hopes the March for Our Lives will impress upon lawmakers the need to take the concerns of young people seriously.
“I hope that the legislators understand that this is a big deal to us and they’re supposed to represent us,” she said. “I’ll be 18 in April; my class is about to become adults and we should be heard. And most importantly, this issue is affecting us. Since we’re at these schools every day, it should be our opinion that matters most.”
While Simcox is heading to the nation's capital, a local companion rally has been scheduled at the Pamlico County Courthouse in Bayboro beginning at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday. Poster-making is set for 9:30 a.m. with the rally from 10 a.m. to noon. For information on the event, go online to http://act.everytown.org/event/march-our-lives-events_attend/10007.