Students demand real solutions to gun control debate

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On March 14, 30 days after Nicholas Cruz opened fire at a South Florida high school,  thousands of students across the country walked out of their classrooms. Locally, students from Lakes High, School Harrison Preparatory School and Steilacoom also walked out.

The shots Cruz fired that day have become ones heard around the country. Students have had enough. They are tired of the debate in Congress regarding gun rights. They are demanding that their right to live and be safe while going to school become the focal point of the discussion.

Cameron Kasky, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where the shooting took place, said, “We’re not going to let the 17 bullets we just took take us down. If anything, we’re going to keep running and lead the rest of the nation behind us.”

The Women’s March youth branch and students from Connecticut helped students at Stoneman Douglas organize their planned march that took place March 24. On the “March For Our Lives” website (, their mission is clear.

“School safety is not a political issue. There cannot be two sides to doing everything in our power to ensure the lives and futures of children who are at risk of dying when they should be learning, playing, and growing. The mission and focus of March For Our Lives is to demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address these gun issues. No special interest group, no political agenda is more critical than timely passage of legislation to effectively address the gun violence issues that are rampant in our country,” the organization’s site said.

School shootings have been part of these students’ lives since they were born. The shooting at Columbine in 1999 was the worst mass high school shooting – until Feb. 14’s event. Since then, there has been a shooting at a school at least once a year nationwide.

The reality for students is a constant underlying state of fear. “A lot of students are feeling helpless and ticked. Just do one thing, do something effective,” said Delisha Ellis, Pierce (Fort Steilacoom) special events coordinator for student activities.

Each shooting incident has followed a predictable pattern: troubled kid or adult takes gun to school, police and SWAT respond and either arrest or kill the shooter while paramedics tend to the wounded or dead. Cue the raging debate between parents, state representatives and the National Rifle Association. Accusations are thrown around using words like “targets of bullies” and “gun rights” with no solution ever reached.

By organizing in the marches, students seek to make those who create policies to pay attention. They want to be heard.

“These walkouts draws attention to the problem, gives them a voice,” said Elijah Ellis, Pierce (Fort Steilacoom) student government president.

The debate about gun rights versus people safety has gone on for so long that the dialogue has become repetitive – and divisive. Sporting goods stores are being forced to choose between the right to sell hunting rifles, and therefore be supportive of the NRA, or stop selling them and face angry customers.

Alyssa Olson, a Pierce College student pursuing a certification in forensic science and a degree in criminal justice, comes from a family of police officers and hunters. She has reservations about gun bans.

“I do not think it would work. The government wants to take my guns. What does a gun ban mean? What do the hunters do?” Olson said.

Another heavy part of the debate is the issue of mental illness. Many of the accounts of school shootings have a common thread. Family, friends, teachers tell of a troubled kid. In the case of Cruz, he was struggling in school and had recently lost his mother to the flu.

Mental illness is only one part of an overall picture; consequently, there are no easy solutions.

“It’s horrible. Mental health is an issue. Taking our guns away will not work. If someone wants to do bad, they will. Everybody is blaming the president or whoever, but nobody wants to talk about a solution,” Olson said.

Finding an answer between opposing camps is never easy. Everyone can agree that children dying because of gun violence needs a permanent solution. But people are inherently worried anytime they hear about the government putting limits on their rights.

Jamie McDonnell, adjunct professor in the criminal justice program, has years of experience as an active shooter team leader and trainer.

“Here’s the people for gun control – they hear ‘we are going to take your guns.’ Then over here are the people who see other causes and have other solutions – and they hear ‘NO!’. No one is saying ‘I hate America.’ No one is saying they’re anti-second amendment. No one is saying (pointing to the gun control side) “I want little children to die,” said McDonnell, about social bridging and how it could be used to have the hard conversation about gun control.

Pierce student Porsche Sturgis sees gun control as a tool to be able to get a handle on a bigger problem that communities have to deal with. She said there is something deep inside the communities that needs to be fixed to help others.

“It’s up to the community to have unity as far as in schools with bullies and everybody,” Sturgis said.

Carl Carallas/Contributing Illustration