After a former student stormed the campus of Marjory Stoneman-Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. earlier this year, killing 17 student and staff members with a legally-purchased semi-automatic rifle, high school students around the country collectively decided they’d had enough.
Three days after the shooting, survivor Emma González spoke at a gun control rally, where she called “B.S.” on the political platitudes and inaction that have followed similar tragedies dating back to Columbine in 1999. A month later, González and other Parkland students organized a March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C. The original rally, and hundreds of “sibling protests” across the country, drew more than a million protesters calling for universal background checks, an end to the sale of high-capacity magazines, and the closure of the gun show loophole.
Here in the Lowcountry, a group of students moved quickly to organize a local march. Held at Riverfront Park on March 24, it culminated in a series of speeches by students, some of whom would go on to form the Lowcountry Students for Political Action to keep the movement alive. We caught up with some of its members after a midterm election that ended in a few gains for their cause.
Attending: University of South Carolina; Recently graduated from Ashley Ridge High School in Summerville
How are you feeling about the movement for common sense gun reform these days? I’m more optimistic than I was last year because there have been a few shifts in our government, locally. There’s a few more people that have been elected to office that are gun sense candidates. Two in the House [JA Moore, District 15; Krystle Simmons, District 117] and one in the Senate [Dick Harpootlian, District 20]. That’s beneficial to our movement and our chances of getting something meaningful passed next year.
How would you describe the goals of the “movement?” The movement of both involving more young people in politics — JA Moore is a young guy who employed more young people in his campaign — and gun reform to prevent mass shootings from happening every week or so in the news.
What’s inspired you the most since taking up these causes? Having the student survivors of the [Parkland] shooting come to Charleston back in July was pretty inspiring, and seeing there’s been a lot of excitement and a lot of people who feel the same way about gun reform in a red state — in a place where most people would not consider it being possible.
Getting young people, or any people, motivated to speak out about issues they care about isn’t always easy. What’s the best way you’ve found to convince people your age to march, protest, and make themselves noticed? I found that just talking to them in person is more effective than social media. Especially on social media … it’s like a TV screen. It’s not real life to them. There’s a separation there. When it’s in person, they see it for what it really is and they see how easy it is to be a part of.
What’s Lowcountry Students for Political Action focusing on in the coming year? We’re kind of taking a little break until January, but once January starts, we’re making a legislative action committee comprised of students at USC that will advocate at the Statehouse, for students, to implement gun reform. We have 16 members in this team and they’re all college students.
Attending: Fort Dorchester High School in North Charleston
How did you first join the local student-led movement for gun reform? After the Parkland shooting in February, there were a couple of events at our own school. We had gun threats on social media the next day, so I kind of felt super helpless and didn’t know what to do. [Dorchester School District Two spokesperson Pat Raynor told CP that the district is “not aware of any credible threats” made at that time.] I got together with a friend and started the [local] March for Our Lives. That’s how I met Jacob. After the march, we decided we weren’t really done with being involved.
Have you seen any positive steps toward reform so far? Sen. Marlon Kimpson was one of the co-writers for a bill to close the “Charleston loophole” [a gap in the FBI’s background check practice that some say allowed Dylann Roof to buy the gun he used to kill nine parishoners at Mother Emanuel], and some of the main things it entailed were changing the waiting period from three to five days and for gun checks to be mandatorily updated. It was a bipartisan bill. I don’t think it was super drastic in its changes, and it didn’t even make it to the floor.
What do you think it’ll take to get through that gridlock? A lot. It’s just trying to change people’s perspectives and trying to get people to understand that you have to have compromise for everything, and with this in particular, people are gonna have to wait an extra 48 hours to get a gun. Some of the stuff they’re trying to do here in South Carolina isn’t super drastic, I don’t think. I feel that people just need to be willing to listen to the other side to try to understand their rationale so they can come to some sort of conclusion, or the start of some sort of change.
What are the plans for 2019? Jacob is up in Columbia right now and he started an LSPA legislative committee up there, so they’ll be working with Sen. Kimpson and other senators to try to get [gun reform] legislation to be a main priority for them. For me here in Charleston, the goal is to keep that awareness up and to make sure that stays in the forefront of people’s minds. We are starting to plan the one year anniversary of the march, so hopefully we can bring a lot of publicity to that and just make sure that people are continuing to keep these things in mind.
Attending: Wando High School in Mt. Pleasant
What inspired you to join the LSPA? After I attended the [North Charleston] March for Our Lives, I started contacting different people to see if I could become involved and become a part of the group that organized it. Then we had the Parkland students come in for a town hall meeting and that’s when I officially reached out to them and became part of the group.
What have you been working on so far? We’ve been organizing voter registrations. We’ve been going around Charleston, Mt. Pleasant, just to anyone who hadn’t registered to vote for the midterm or general election. We just recently finished our March to Midterms, which was on Nov. 3.
How did that come about? It was a rally that Sydney and I and Jacob organized to have candidates speak about their campaigns and what was important to them. We were focused on gun control and trying not to lose any more high school students because of gun violence. We hosted it at the College of Charleston, so it was in the city, and it was a good turnout! We had [S.C. House District 112 candidate] Joe Preston, [S.C. House District 110 candidate] Ben Pogue, and we had Pastor Thomas Dixon, who will be running for mayor [of North Charleston] in 2019.
What do you think some adults don’t get about young activists like yourself? It isn’t about losing gun rights or amendments, it’s about not wanting to lose any more brothers or sisters in high schools across the country. I feel like adults also don’t understand that this is not just a social issue, or an issue in “wrong” parts of the country. This is a gun issue that we are facing. It has nothing to do with where we come from or who we are. It’s just young kids being attacked in places that we feel safe.