Camas students to march for gun control

High schoolers will join national walkout March 14

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Camas High School students will join the National School Walkout, a youth-led movement calling on government leaders to enact common sense gun control legislation, at 10 a.m., Wednesday, March 14.

The march, a response to the latest mass school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, will last 17 minutes — one minute for each of the Parkland victims.

Five Camas High students — Monica Chang, Catherine Garcia, Abigail Jiang, Tanner O’Brien and Sarah Wells-Moran — organized the walkout at the local high school, and met with Camas High Principal Dr. Liza Sejkora on Feb. 23 to discuss their plans.

Chang, a Camas High junior, said students plan to read the names of the victims, give a short biography for each and take a moment of silence during the 17-minute walkout.

So far, Camas High administrators have shown support for the walkout, and have told the students they will not suspend participants.

Camas High School students’ demands to local representatives:

    1. Help in the banning of military-grade assault rifles and high capacity magazines of more than 10 rounds to reduce the breadth and depth of damage mass shooters have the potential to inflict.
    2. Ban bump stocks that turn semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic ones. No civilian needs such weapons for self defense.
    3. Raise the age requirement to buy an AR-15 — the gun used in the Parkland shooting — from 18 to 21.
    4. Lift the ban on federally funded research into causes of gun violence (the Dickey Amendment). The Center for Disease Control (CDC) should be allowed to extensively investigate gun violence as a public safety concern. The CDC researched car safety and smoking — this is no different.
    5. Implement universal background checks, a policy that already has wide bipartisan support. Show support for implementing background checks at gun shows and online to make sure there are no loopholes where unstable individuals can obtain these weapons. You have supported loose measures on gun show purchases in the past, and this is unacceptable.
    6. Extend the period of time investigators have to complete delayed background checks from 3 to 14 days. This would enhance law enforcement’s ability to prevent gun violence.
    7. Increase funding for mental health services. While mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent less than 1 percent of yearly gun-related homicides, providing mental health services could prevent a mass shooter from ever acting on their thoughts.
    8. Keep local government organizations, such as the sheriff’s office and local FBI, accountable. Our lives depend on the integrity of their actions.

Chang said she was shaken by the Parkland shooting, especially given how closely the Florida community mirrored her own town of Camas.

“As a student, it is only natural to imagine yourself in that horrific situation,” Chang said. “I feel despair and outrage every time I hear about a mass shooting. Outrage that mass shootings are normal. Outrage that mass shootings in America are a blur. A blur.”

Now, however, Chang is feeling something new — hope that something will change as the nation’s youth exercise their political voice.

“It was so easy to imagine myself in their shoes,” Chang said of the Parkland victims. “I initially felt overwhelmed and powerless, since I am still underage and unable to vote. However, after seeing the inspiring actions of the students at MSD High, I realized that voting is not the only way to have a political voice. Many Camas students feel similarly sickened and tired of the mass shootings in America, and the complacency that follows. It is unacceptable.”

O’Brien, one of the other walkout organizers, said he believes sitting quietly after years of mass shootings is equivalent to complacency.

“The shooting in Florida was horrific and I just had to speak out against this type of preventable violence,” O’Brien said. “As a student, these shootings really scare me.”

He added that, although he knows it’s unlikely that the next shooting would be at Camas High, the fact that it’s not impossible scares him.

“It’s impossible not to consider the chance that it could be, which is a very scary path to explore,” O’Brien said. “The fact that it’s abnormal for a student not to have considered a potential shooter situation is what scares me the most. It’s also what motivates me to put as much effort as I can into making our country safer for all of us.”

The Camas walkout organizers have written a detailed letter demanding specific gun control items, which they’ll send to U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler. Chang said they’re gathering other Camas students’ signatures for the letter over the next few weeks.

“It’s essential for people my age to understand that we have a voice and it is our responsibility to use our voices to make the world a better place, no matter how small the change may seem.” O’Brien said. “What I truly want is actual, effective legislation regarding gun violence. I want the cycle of non-reform and moving on to end.”

The students are reaching out beyond their district to schools such as Columbia River High School, Mountain View High School and Skyview High School to help organize walkouts at those schools, and gather as many signatures as possible for their letter from students throughout the region.

Want to learn more about what local students are doing to help enact gun control? Visit the Camas High @NeverAgainSWWA, the social media account that the Camas students created on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to get the word out.

“I truly believe that walkouts like these demonstrate our refusal to accept how things are and demand we strive for what could be. Demand we live in a world where students don’t have to think about what to do if someone attacks their school. A world where attacks like the Stoneman Douglas High School event don’t happen on a fortnightly basis, or a monthly basis, or even a yearly one,” O’Brien said. “Change like that starts with us, and I am not afraid to speak out. Not when lives are on the line.”