On March 14th, students around the nation walked out of their schools for 17 minutes to honor the victims of school shootings, specifically the recent shooting where 17 young lives were tragically lost at Parkland High School in Florida, and to call for gun control reform. Due to the snowstorm, however, many New England schools closed on the 14th, so those schools walked out at 10am the following day.
Arlington High School students and faculty members each made an individual decision about whether or not to walk out. Some chose to remain inside while others organized the events, and still others participated in the walkout by leaving their classes and listening to their peers give speeches in front of the high school.
As the number of school shootings around the nation increases each day, students and teachers alike think about the best solution to a problem currently plaguing America. There are varying arguments regarding gun control and the justification of the second amendment. This article represents a sampling of student and teacher opinions regarding the effectiveness of the walkouts, as well as gun laws in America. This article is meant to expose the many layers of arguments which discuss the best ways to keep people safe.
Ponder Page: What was your role in organizing the walkout?
Isa Dray: “I organized the AHS #NeverAgain walkout in collaboration with Laura Kirchner, Sophie Plotkin, and Gayatri Sundar Rajan.”
PP: What change do you hope to see in gun control laws?
ID: “Nationwide I think it is really important that we have stricter background checks, raise the legal age for gun purchase to 21 and repeal the Dickey Amendment, which prevents federal funds awarded to the Center for Disease Control from being used to advocate or promote gun control via studies of any sorts. This is a huge deal because it means that no comprehensive studies can be performed to assess the United States’ gun violence and gun culture. In Massachusetts, we need to continue to lead the way in gun reform by passing the Extreme Risk Protective Order, which would allow a judge to order a temporary removal of guns from someone ruled to be a danger to themselves or others. With many shootings that take place, family members or friends had prior knowledge or had seen signs of intent. Passing this bill is essential to making us safer and ensuring that guns only stay in the hands of those fit to carry them.”
PP: How do you feel about how the walkout went, reflecting from a week later?
ID: “I was really happy with how the walkout went! Seeing it all come together after two and a half weeks of hard work was very fulfilling. The event also went really smoothly thanks to the large support system we had and our comprehensive planning. I loved hearing the speakers; they all had really powerful messages and it was great to hear a variety of students speak. Having elected officials Sean Garballey, Dave Rogers, and Joe Curro, their listening to us and supporting us along with our community meant so much to me. It was really awesome to see AHS students come together for the second week in a row to show that this matters to us and to confront the reality that this could happen to us too, which is why we need to take action!”
PP: Further thoughts? Main takeaway?
ID: “I think it’s super important that people stay engaged. The national walkout to call for gun reform is not a one and done thing. We need to continue the momentum, keep this conversation in the headlines and continuously work towards comprehensive gun laws. Change doesn’t happen overnight and I encourage everyone to not let the walkout be the only thing you do. The biggest danger to this movement is the potential for it to die out if people do not stay engaged. Attend the March for Our Lives Saturday March 24th in Boston, attend the Young Dems workshops that are focused around contacting reps and making change, continue meaningful conversation with those around you, and pay attention for more walkouts scheduled for the coming weeks. Students are pushing for the Extreme Risk Protective order to be passed in Massachusetts by mid-April and we need to really work towards this by contacting our reps and demonstrating our frustration and commitment.”
“I just feel like the walkout isn’t really going to accomplish anything. The walkout is a complete waste of time, and I agree that some things need to change, but having a bunch of kids walk out of the school is not going to bring this change. Most of the kids that I talked to said that they were just walking out just to miss class and a lot of others don’t know what they are protesting against. For why I didn’t walkout, that’s because I don’t believe in what this movement is about. I was inside and I had my 17 minutes of silence to pay respects to the 17 people that had died, but I don’t think that the banning of semi-automatic rifles and other firearms is going to help. I know that this is not what the main goal is behind the walkout, but that’s what it is becoming. People that I have talked to, that support the walkout, have said that this is what they are trying to accomplish. I believe that if all guns in general disappeared we would be in a good place, but that is unrealistic. With the ban of assault rifles, the only thing that would happen is that law abiding citizens would turn in their guns, and criminals would not, and then there would be a large group of armed criminals that have an advantage over unarmed law abiding citizens that use their guns for good. But onto the third question: I definitely did feel supported by the teachers in the school. In both classes, the teachers engaged in conversations with me and there was no judging except by a few other students but that doesn’t matter.”
PP: Why did you decide to become involved with the walkout?
LK: “The National Walkout started being planned, and we noticed a lot of posts for other schools that were participating, but we noticed that there were no posts for Arlington High School, so we figured it would be better to have an organized event where we were all walking out with a purpose and we had a plan for what we would do with those 17 minutes rather than people aimlessly walking out, because it’s more powerful if we actually know what we’re doing and what we’re walking out for.”
PP: Were there any challenges you faced as an organizer?
LK: “We did have some trouble communicating with the administration, especially with the snow day, because instead of walking out with schools across the country we walked out with schools across New England. We all knew that we wanted to make it as soon as possible after the snow day, and we essentially said to the administration, ‘we will be walking out at 10 o’clock’ and we just had to organize with them; they of course wanted students to be safe during the walkout so we just had to figure stuff out with the police to make sure there was some separation between the community and the students, but then again we didn’t want the community to be excluded because it’s affecting the community as well every time there’s an event like this.”
Mr. Fant (history dept)
Last Wednesday, March 7th during A block I addressed my AP Governments students concerning the walkout. I told them that I was not personally offended if they chose to participate in the walkout and that I support them exercising their right to free speech;however, if they chose to walk out of the graded moot court assessment scheduled for that period, it would affect their participation grade for that assignment. I also told the class that I was doing so because I didn’t want to cheapen an act of civil disobedience by making it completely free from consequence.
Here is my reasoning.
When Henry David Thoreau wrote about his decision to not pay his taxes as a way to protest the war with Mexico in the 1840s he knew he would be arrested for breaking the law. In fact, when he was bailed out of jail by a relative within 24 hours, he was angry that he could not stay in jail longer because he believed that suffering a consequence for his act of civil disobedience gave it more strength and meaning. This is why Dr. Martin Luther King and Gandhi engaged in direct action and civil disobedience and suffered the consequences of fines and jail time for their causes.
Additionally, students have a constitutional right to disruptive protest in schools as seen in the Supreme Court Case Tinker v. Des Moines. When Mary Beth Tinker and her friends wore black armbands to school to protest the war in Vietnam, they intended to disrupt the regular educational activities of the school day. That’s the point of protest, not just to signal virtues, but to cause conversation hopefully change through disruption.
Rescheduling assessments (such as the moot court) or excusing absences to accommodate the walkout creates two problems. The first is that doing so would undermine the protest itself by separating civil disobedience from consequence, however small it is in this case. The protest would be less disruptive of the regular school day and therefore less effective.
I support the aims of this walkout and this student-led movement to make our schools safer by demanding more gun control. I am inspired by Arlington High School students and their willingness to demand action and take part in protest movements like this one. Furthermore, I am looking forward to participating in the scheduled rally on Inclusion Day and I imagine I will see a lot of AHS students at the March For Our Lives rally on March 24th when I exercise my own First Amendment right concerning the issue of gun violence.
My support for this walkout brings me to the second problem inherent in accommodating it in my class. Doing so in this case, because I support the movement, would set a precedent that all future walkouts will be sanctioned as well, regardless of what those walkouts are protesting. Public school teachers should be hesitant to punish or sanction speech no matter how popular or unpopular. Therefore, I plan on applying the same policy to future walkouts and protests which cause students to miss all or part of a scheduled assessment.
Mr. Matson (history dept)
PP: Do you believe in penalizing students for participating in the walkouts? (such as a lower participation grade)
Scott Matson: “As far as the penalties are concerned, I didn’t do any penalties, but I think it’s up to the individual teacher.”
PP: How effective do you think the walk outs are going to be in the near future, or long term?
SM: “I do not think they are going to be very effective. In my opinion, a majority of the students around the country don’t even realize what they are doing… they are just following what the social media is telling them to do.”
PP: Why do you think students are targeting the ‘wrong people’?
SM: “They are targeting people who are NRA members, who I know a lot of, and they have nothing to do with [gun laws in America].” Additionally, Matson thinks,“there are other issues that should be more focused on, like the whole social media issue” rather than the issue of gun control.
Milo chose to participate in both AHS walkouts.
PP: What do you think about having a penalty on the walkout?
Milo Kiely-Song:“Here’s my thinking: it’s a walkout, if you are going to participate, you shouldn’t expect the full support of the administration … it’s not a school sanctioned event.”
PP: Why did you decide to walk out?
MK-S: “I decided to walk out because I absolutely believe that stricter gun regulations are necessary to make our country and our schools safer.”
PP: In what way do you think the walkouts will move things forward?
MK-S: “I think the walkouts will serve a twofold purpose: first of all to simply demonstrate the discontent in our country at the moment, especially among our generation … the generation moving into the position of being able to vote. Secondly … it’s a launching point, it spreads the word, it gets people involved and interested in the process of making change.”
PP: In what way do you find your own views to be different from other students at AHS?
MK-S: “I am a Libertarian. And Libertarianism is the belief in one’s own freedoms … property rights, land rights, etc. And in terms of gun laws for me, that means I do not believe in banning the distribution of guns in this market. I don’t think the government should have that much control over business and what they chose to sell. However, since guns are very dangerous, especially semi-automatic weapons, I believe that it us necessary for us to impose stricter regulations on the purchase of such guns. A lot of people talk about putting a ban on semi-automatic weapons being sold, and, personally, I do not think that is necessarily the best idea for us. Everyone wants to preserve their liberties, [and] nobody’s against that. And in this time of social and political turmoil, I think it is important to retain those liberties. And if we do implement stricter background checks and more comprehensive systems towards buying a gun, I don’t think we need to actually ban semi-automatic weapons to get the same result.”
PP: Why were you uncertain that your opinion would be valued or “fit” in my article?
MK-S: “I think I can have a lot of great conversations [here at AHS] with people who respect my opinions, but this is Massachusetts… which tends to mean that there are less people with more conservative outlooks and similar opinions to mine.”