This letter to the editor originally published in the Las Vegas Sun.
This year, Feb. 14 was both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. There were people in Las Vegas with ashes on their foreheads, families in their hearts, and roses and gifts for loved ones in their hands. But love on Feb. 14 was overshadowed by a devastating tragedy that the world now knows as the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
That afternoon students in Parkland, Fla., faced the unthinkable: gunshots ringing through the halls of their peaceful campus, classmates ducking under desks, loved ones texting each other goodbye and friends dying before their eyes. The shooter murdered 17 people, tearing apart the lives of their families and friends. It was one of the deadliest school massacres ever, taking even more lives than the 1999 Columbine High School shooting. Americans went to bed even more deeply disturbed about the state of gun violence in our country, recognizing that the last school shooting occurred just nine days prior at a Maryland high school.
And just like that, a student-led movement for change was born. Students like Cameron Kasky formed advocacy groups, such as NeverAgainMSD, which advocates for gun reform and tells the stories of the survivors of the Stoneman Douglas shooting. Survivors also have mobilized to build and create a brand-name movement called March For Our Lives. On March 24, these student activists will march on Washington, D.C., along with thousands of other protesters in cities across the country, to rally for gun reform legislation.
These brave survivors and student activists are unafraid to step up and make a change in their country. But what happened in Parkland also hits home in Las Vegas, and speaks to the power of student activism to transform our country.
Just a few months ago, Las Vegas faced one of the worst shootings in U.S. history, leaving 58 dead and 851 injured at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival. On the night of the shooting, I had left the Strip area and headed home, only to be greeted by a bombardment of tweets and text messages asking if I was OK. After learning about the attack, I was shaken. As a survivor of gun violence — having lived through the 2014 shootings in Las Vegas that left five dead — I know that the issue isn’t about one person or even a group of people. Instead, it all comes down to one thing: guns.
Across the nation, we’ve seen so many lives taken by gun violence. In the first two months of this year, we’ve seen eight school shootings and, according to Mass Shooting Tracker, there have been 48 mass shootings claiming nearly 100 lives. We’ve seen the damage that guns inflict on our society, yet America’s corrupt, power-hungry gun lobby continues to use its influence to maintain the status quo.
Thankfully, my generation isn’t buying it. At least 80 percent of millennials and Generation Z’ers believe our country has a deep problem with gun violence. This problem isn’t just in our schools, but also within communities of color and low-income communities, where residents often fall victim to heartbreaking levels of gun violence in their neighborhoods. Young people are also angry because adults aren’t doing anything about the problem. That’s why it’s up to us to make change in our communities.
Young people have been busy since Feb. 14. We no longer need our legislators’ thoughts and prayers, especially in Las Vegas. Along with mobilization efforts across the country, Women’s March National is hosting a #NationalWalkOutDay. On March 14 at 10 a.m., we’ll walk out of our classrooms for 17 minutes to protest Congress’ inaction. Here in Las Vegas, there are at least 11 student-led actions at local high schools and colleges, and students, parents and even administrators are expected to show up in the hundreds. I’ve had the opportunity to organize UNLV’s #NationalSchoolWalkOut with other student activists, as we plan to rally at the UNLV Free Speech Zone to demand our legislators take action.
If Congress refuses to take action to resolve our national crisis of gun violence, we must take it on ourselves. What happened in Parkland and Las Vegas is not acceptable. We’re hitting the streets to protest across the country to say enough is enough.