April 20th (4/20) is potentially one of the most famous days of the year behind the usual holidays of Christmas, Fourth of July and Halloween, for many infamous reasons. 4/20 is remembered as Hitler’s birthday, a reminder to never repeat history, and more recently as a day to partake in marijuana, part celebration of the beginning of the legalization of this drug and part remembrance of those still imprisoned for marijuana-related offenses. This April, students across the country walked out of their classes on the 20th as a reminder of the other infamous event on this date: the Columbine shooting. This was the 19th anniversary of this horrific shooting, that was considered one of the first modern school shooting and brought this issue to the national consciousness with the deaths of twelve students and one teacher.
By walking out of their classrooms, student activists across the nation continue to show their staying power and the fact that they will not be ignored – a big difference in comparison to past mass school shootings. The students’ website entitled National School Walkout, stated that “We’re protesting congressional, state, and local failures to take action to prevent gun violence. America is the only country in the world where so many people are killed by guns, and yet our leaders do nothing about it. In many states it’s more difficult to register to vote than it is to buy a rifle. Apparently to some politicians, a vote is scarier than a gun.” Their mission is to “hold elected officials accountable, promote solutions to gun violence [and] demystify and engage students in the political system.”
This protest, that began at 10:00 am with 13 seconds of silence for the Columbine victims and with at least 2,600 walkouts, was created by students who have had enough. One of the main organizers was 16-year-old Lane Murdoch of Ridgefield High School, near Newtown, Connecticut, the site of the truly heinous Sandy Hook shooting that left twenty kindergarteners and six adults dead.
Throughout the country, thousands of students walked out of their classrooms and protested in creative ways the pervasive lack of gun control in this country, the blatant disregard by politicians and how this country values its Second Amendment rights over the lives of children. Students flooded their football fields, state capitols and even the White House.
Chants such as “NRA has got to go” and “Hands up! Don’t shoot,” and “What do we want? Gun control. When do we want it? Now,” rang out across the country. Plenty of students wore orange to support the Parkland students and some protested with “die-ins” while others participated in voter registration drives.
Unfortunately and ironically, the students’ points about the importance of gun control and prevalence of school shootings were proven correct when on April 20th at 8:39 A.M., 19 year old Sky Bouche snuck his gun into Forest High School in Ocala, Florida and shot one student in the ankle before being apprehended. Forest students had planned to walk out at 11:00 A.M., defying administrators who stated that participants would be punished, but instead these students spent their morning in lockdown, barricading their classrooms.
This is not okay. The Washington Post has conglomerated a database of all the school shootings since Columbine, finding that more than 208,000 students have experienced gun violence at school, especially students of color.
There have been 131 victims and 272 injured. This year, there have been 13 school shootings, the highest so far. This is why it is so important to support these students. School should be the one place that’s safe for everyone. Students have a right to be safe from gun violence every minute of their lives but especially in school. They should not be practicing to barricade their classrooms or hiding from shooters; they should be learning, and not learning that their lives are irrelevant to their elected officials or the NRA.