Last night, Parkland survivors joined with local gun violence survivors and student activists from across the nation to hold a town hall at Sierra Vista High School in Southwest Vegas. At this “Road to Change” town hall in the school gymnasium, they spoke with Nevadans about the state’s and nation’s gun laws, the human toll of gun violence, why it’s important to “call BS”, and how they can make a difference.
“[W]hat are they doing when they’re in office? Absolutely nothing. And what’s happening to us in the community? We’re dying.”
– Denise Hooks, March for Our Lives Las Vegas
Before the event began, I spoke with two local March for Our Lives organizers about why this is important and what’s at stake in the coming days. According to Nyssa Silva, “If the people speak up, finally come forward and hold our elected representatives accountable for their actions, […] they will have no other choice but to enact the things that we have voted for.” She then added: “We’re here, and we’re not planning on leaving any time soon, until this legislation is passed.”
What legislation are they demanding? They want the State of Nevada to begin enforcing the background checks law that voters approved in 2016, and they want the federal and state governments to act to ban military grade assault weapons and high-capacity magazines from the civilian market, close loopholes that allow domestic abusers and other violent offenders to possess firearms, and fully fund gun violence research and community intervention programs to address the root causes of this epidemic.
As Denise Hooks put it, “So often, we have representatives who say, ‘Yeah, we support that. We agree with what you’re saying.’ But what are they doing when they’re in office? Absolutely nothing. And what’s happening to us in the community? We’re dying.”
“Your Attorney General, Adam Laxalt, is not enforcing the law. […] He says the FBI won’t let him enforce it. We call BS.”
– David Hogg, Parkland survivor and March for Our Lives national leader
Denise Hooks wasn’t alone in expressing frustration over continued lack of action. During the town hall, Parkland survivor-turned-activist David Hogg called out the Republican Gubernatorial nominee for his ongoing refusal to enforce the voter-approved background checks law: “Your Attorney General, Adam Laxalt, is not enforcing the law. […] He says the FBI won’t let him enforce it. We call BS.”
— Andrew Davey (@atdleft) July 17, 2018
Hogg then implored upon the audience to get active and fight back if they want Nevada and the nation to reject the kind of platform Laxalt is running on: “It’s time for us to fight for what’s right by getting out and voting.”
Local student activist Karl Catarata later expanded on Hogg’s remarks and addressed Laxalt’s indifference to students’ demands for gun violence prevention: “Mr. Laxalt, let me tell you something: You didn’t invite any students to your roundtable. You didn’t invite any young voters to your roundtable, so let me tell you something. At your next roundtable, let’s talk. Come to the students!” Catarata also said this: “If you don’t listen to young people, we’re going to vote you out.”
“Vote for the people you agree with. Don’t vote for the [party]. Vote for the people who represent you in the best way possible so our democracy is as pure as it can be.”
– Jake Rouse, March for Our Lives Las Vegas
After the program, I spoke with fellow March for Our Lives Las Vegas activist Jake Rouse. A self-described independent, Rouse stressed that he’s living proof of this movement moving beyond the “liberal Democrat, big city bubble” stereotype that opponents often apply to it. He also pointed to the small clique of Donald Trump supporters who wore the signature “Make America Great Again” red hats into the event. Not only did these Trump supporters decline to disrupt the event, but Rouse mentioned that they later spoke with him and found some common ground on gun violence.
“They were all incredibly open-minded, and they agreed with a lot of the things we talked about in the panel. I think it was very productive in that realm,” Rouse noted. He then went on to say, “In the end, when it comes to preventing gun violence, it’s not going to be one side of the aisle who can just do it [alone]. We have to bridge that gap.”
Later on, I asked Rouse about Republican politicians like Adam Laxalt and U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R), politicians who have stuck with President Donald Trump, the NRA, and the gun lobby despite attempts by March for Our Lives and other gun safety advocates (perhaps even Republican constituents) to change their ways. Rouse offered this advice: “Vote for the people you agree with. Don’t vote for the [party]. Vote for the people who represent you in the best way possible so our democracy is as pure as it can be.”
Though the gun violence debate has mostly fallen along party lines in Washington, Rouse and other local activists are hoping to change this dynamic, even if it means convincing more Republican voters to reject Republican politicians like Laxalt and Heller who have refused to find any common ground on issues like background checks, assault weapons, and constructive community engagement (over simply placing more guns in more environments). Though most voters seem to side with the student activists over the gun lobby, it remains to be seen whether this time will be different from past attempts to shift the balance of power in Washington and Carson City. But with activists building upon this past spring’s protests with a summer of action, they’re doing everything possible to fall into a new dynamic and a new paradigm for gun violence prevention.