Students affiliated with the March for Our Lives movement refuse to have their message ignored. Now if only the adults in opposition, and politicians in charge of policy, would stop pushing their own agenda long enough to hear what these teens are saying—or even bother to show up—they might actually learn something.
During the MFOL town hall held April 7 at the Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building, students read questions to cardboard cutouts of Sen. Orrin Hatch and Reps. John Curtis, Chris Stewart, Mia Love and Rob Bishop. During the metaphorical airing of grievances one message rang loud and clear: Our kids are tired of feeling unsafe.
From stranger drills to lockdown drills to the truly horrific active-shooter drills, today's high school students have spent a good deal of their school years having the shit scared out of them.
The first time my 5-year-old daughter recounted her experience during a stranger drill, it took everything I had not to burst into tears as her sweet, tiny voice described sitting along the whiteboard of her darkened kindergarten classroom in complete silence so "the bad guy" could not find them.
Before that moment, I did not fully realize the level of defeat we as a society had committed ourselves to. If the phrase "actions speak louder than words" holds any merit, the day we decided to have 4 and 5 year olds hide in silence is the day we all agree to live in a nation more reflective of Orwellian oppression than freedom.
As high school students from Herriman to South Davis spoke, the attack on their sense of safety became ever apparent. Not only had the adults in their life taken away their ability to feel safe in school, we'd made them feel this level of violence was their burden to bear. Repeatedly, students conveyed the fear they carry on a daily basis for their own lives and the lives of their siblings, friends, parents and teachers.
If the adults opposed to gun reform spent less time trying to discredit our kids and more time listening, they might realize these teens are far from the crazy zealots some paint them to be. If you are over the age of 25, it is unlikely you ever sat in a dark classroom watching tears roll down the cheeks of a classmate huddled next to you. In your formative years, you did not see news snippets of deranged shooters killing dozens of students, mall shoppers or concert goers. These teens have, and given their life experiences, it's perfectly logical for them to fear the object that has oppressed their sense of safety for as long as they can remember. As far as I'm concerned, mocking them for it is a real dick move.
If guns had invaded our sense of safety throughout our entire childhood, we would also consider the proposed solution of more guns as nothing more than a sick joke.
Not to mention our recent acceptance of the "eye for an eye" mentality—which is at the foundation of the "good guy with a gun" argument—has not always been such an easy sell. Granted, it's been a few years, but if memory serves, I don't recall this concept being nearly as popular when Malcolm X was preaching it. Nor do I recall reading about the time our government offered to purchase firearms for members of the Black Panther party when they began to open-carry in an effort to protect private citizens. Yet, here we are decades later with a fraction of our population more willing to buy guns than textbooks.
If the goal was to have our kids fear the dangerous consequences of unchecked mental illness, then we should have allocated funding toward easier access to mental health care. If the goal was to have our kids defend constitutional amendments, then we should have second guessed taking away their sense of safety in a classroom before they were taught how to read. If we wanted students to take accountability for their behavior, then we should have modeled accountability for our own.
The way I see it, opponents of common-sense gun laws have a choice: They can continue to belittle kids across the nation for having the audacity to request a sense of security, or they can take accountability for their role in preparing our youth to arrive at this exact conclusion.
The conversation is far from over. Opponents and politicians would be wise to start showing up to the conversation prepared to listen.
Aspen Perry is a Salt Lake City-based aspiring author and self-proclaimed "philosophical genius." Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org