Feighan: Student-led protests aim to change gun debate
Amina Khalique and her best friend Tamera Middlebrooks have never known a time when mass shootings weren’t a regular part of American history.
To put it in perspective, Khalique, 17, and Middlebrooks, 18, both students at Detroit’s Cass Technical High School, were born after the Columbine High School tragedy. And they were entering their teens when Adam Lanza opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School, murdering 20 first-graders and six teachers.
Gun violence is so pervasive in Detroit — and the United States — that it’s shaped the two teens’ reality. Every day both girls pass through metal detectors at Cass Tech and open their backpacks to be inspected before the school day even starts.
“We want to feel safe at school,” says Khalique, who lives in Detroit’s Banglatown neighborhood, one of six daughters to Bangladeshi immigrants. “And for the most part, I do feel safe. But during this time with so many things going on, it’s hard to feel safe.”
That’s why a growing chorus of young people such as Khalique and Middlebrooks are stepping up and finally asserting their political power, declaring enough is enough after the latest horrific shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Motivated and inspired by the young survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 students and teachers dead, youth from all over the country are organizing walkouts and marches to demand more gun control.
Khalique and Middlebrooks, who consider themselves activists, are two of the co-organizers of a planned walkout at Cass Tech on March 14 and a March For Our Lives rally on March 24 at Detroit’s Rivard Plaza. Marches also are planned in Ferndale and Ann Arbor.
Prayers and condolences aren’t enough anymore, says Middlebrooks.
“We need direct action,” she said.
But will these largely student-organized marches and protests be enough for politicians to take notice? Both girls are hopeful.
“People always tell us that the youth is the future,” says Khalique. “And I want the government to see this, that the youth are demanding gun reform. We don’t want to see another shooting like this.”
Khalique says you can’t talk about mass shootings in the United States without talking about gun violence in general. And she believes the problem stems from a lack of gun legislation.
“I was reading an article about how difficult it is to get a gun in Japan and I think it was 13 steps,” says Khalique. “You have to sit in a class for hours and take a test to make sure you are mentally OK. After so many steps, you’d finally be able to obtain a gun. In America, it’s so easy to get a gun.”
Japan’s tough gun laws have paid dividends. According to a report by the BBC, there were just six gun deaths in Japan in 2014. There were 33,599 for the same period in the United States.
Arming teachers — as President Donald Trump has proposed — isn’t the answer either, says Khalique.
“That’s just not my definition of safe,” says Khalique, who’d also like to see schools do a better job of helping struggling students find available resources when they need help.
Whatever the outcome of this month’s walkout and marches, one thing is for certain: Young people have serious voting power. According to the Pew Research Center, millennials — whom it defines as those from age 20 to 35 — are on the cusp of surpassing baby boomers as the nation’s largest living adult generation, according to population projections from the U.S. Census Bureau. Both generations now represent about 31 percent of the voting-eligible population but that will change as baby boomers pass on.
Khalique believes too many young people aren’t aware of their power.
“This is spreading a powerful message and it’s student led,” she says.