Since the mass shooting where 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, students across the U.S. have rallied together to protest to advocate for gun law reforms. These students are generating a movement based on the premise of “Never Again” to end gun violence in schools.
Students, regardless of being of voting age, should be able to participate in movements against policies that directly effect their lives.
On Feb. 21, students united in peaceful protest on the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, while students within a spread of counties in South Florida demonstrated walkouts at their schools. Protesters also staged a “lie-in” near the White House on Feb 19, where students posed as corpses lying on the sidewalk with their arms crossed to symbolize the effects of gun violence.
The Gun Violence Archive – a nonprofit organization which has been tracking school shootings since 2014 – reports that there have been 239 school shootings since 2014, 16 of which were classified as mass shootings. The Gun Violence Archive considers a mass shooting to be an event where four or more people are shot.
The prevalence of gun violence in schools is inspiring students to take action against the policies in place that they claim are enabling gun violence to continue.
These students are not backing down. More protests have been planned, such as the National School Walk-Out on March 14 and the March for Our Lives demonstration on March 24.
However, many schools are pushing back against these protests. For example, a superintendent in the Needville, Texas school district sent out a letter warning that students who engaged in any peaceful protest would be met with a three-day suspension.
Schools should not require students to choose between their civil rights or adherence to their school policy.
On Feb. 24, 1969, the Supreme Court case, Tinker v. Des Moines where students were suspended for wearing black armbands in school to protest the Vietnam War, ruled that “students do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” This ruling is still relevant today.
Students are engaged citizens. Despite many of these students being minors or high-school aged, they are directly affected by the laws within this country. If they are expected to uphold the laws as any average citizen within and above voting age, they should be allowed to exercise the laws already in place meant to protect them as well, such as the right to peaceful assembly under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
It is arguable that they are protesting the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms. How do we determine which law takes precedence when one appears to enable students to advocate for dismantling another?
These students are not calling for a ban on all guns. The aim of these demonstrations is to raise awareness on how the little restrictions on gun ownership are affecting their lives and their schools. Students should be able to exercise their rights without fear of penalty from the exact institutions they are advocating to keep safer.
On Feb.27, @USouthFlorida tweeted a statement in support of lawful student protests: “The University of South Florida values the right to free speech and strives to be a campus where all community members can share their diverse perspectives in a civil and respectful manner. #USF Admissions does not penalize students who participate in lawful, peaceful protests.”
The First Amendment should be applied to all public schools. Stifling students’ rights to free speech and free expression (even in the form of peaceful assembly) is unconstitutional. Students should not be expected to relinquish their rights as American citizens to be free of punishment from the schools they want to protect.
Paige Wisniewski is a junior majoring in interdisciplinary sciences.