This weekend, thousands of students are expected to march in the nation’s capital to demand Congress take action on gun violence. Many thousands more students will be marching across the nation, including here in Las Vegas. We speak with two local advocates, a student fighting on the front lines and a parent demanding action, about why they’re marching, and what they hope will become of it.
“We were sick of watching people on the news, […] and seeing nothing done about it. We’re promoting gun control and school safety.”
– Franlisha Vasquez, Rancho High School Student
Since last month’s tragic mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students across the nation have taken matters into their own hands. Not only have they been walking out of class, but they’ve also become the new leaders in the fight for gun violence prevention. I witnessed some of this activism myself on Monday, when Rancho High School students walked off their Las Vegas campus to demand action.
Why are they doing this? For Rancho student Franlisha Vasquez, it’s about ending the vicious cycle of school shootings that’s made high schools feel more like armed battlefields. “We were sick of watching people on the news, […] and seeing nothing done about it. We’re promoting gun control and school safety.”
And what exactly, do these students want? For Vasquez, “We want the people who own and carry guns to be stable and responsible, […] so we want more background checks.” She continued, “[If they’re not] healthy, they shouldn’t be able to carry a gun. This is a weapon that can end lives. We need to make sure that the people who carry them are responsible and stable.”
“I could no longer sit on the sidelines.”
– Jenny Gentleman, Moms Demand Action Nevada
The next day, I spoke with Jenny Gentleman. Like many Nevadans, she was moved by the 1 October Las Vegas Shooting and its immediate aftermath. Gentleman then took the next step when a friend introduced her to Moms Demand Action, the nationwide network of grassroots gun safety activists powered by Everytown for Gun Safety. Gentleman now serves as the Summerlin chapter leader.
For Gentleman, “There was something about that shooting. […] I could no longer sit on the sidelines.” And since those first days in activism, Gentleman has reminded herself of this: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
“[T]his work is a marathon, and this will take a major shift.”
– Jenny Gentleman
In the immediate aftermath of 1 October, several Republicans in Congress suggested they could support some gun safety legislation, such as a ban on bump stocks and encouraging better reporting to the national background checks system. Yet despite the continually growing list of gun violence casualties, Congress still hasn’t taken action.
For Jenny Gentleman, this inaction was incredibly frustrating, “I remember feeling sad, and disappointed.” But then, she committed herself to continuing the work for gun violence prevention: “I then realized that this work is a marathon, and this will take a major shift.”
At Rancho High, Franlisha Vasquez vowed to do everything necessary to make that shift happen: “We need to do more, because we don’t have enough. Anyone could walk through the door and harm us. We don’t know the difference, so we need more security.”
“We know that background checks save lives. […] We know background checks work.”
– Jenny Gentleman
Moms Demand Action’s Jenny Gentleman noted that despite the ongoing Congressional stalemate, progress has been made at the state and local levels. Here in Nevada, activists have been able to defeat pro-NRA bills (such as “campus carry”) and pass some gun safety laws (such as one to restrict firearms access to domestic violence offenders). And in 2016, they succeeded in passing Question 1 to subject more gun purchases to background checks.
And yet, Question 1 is still not being enforced by the state. Jenny Gentleman asked why the Governor Brian Sandoval (R) and Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R) won’t enforce state law and prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands. “We know that background checks save lives. We’ve seen that happen [in other states]. We know background checks work.”
Gentleman then pointed out one of the consequences of maintaining current background check loopholes. “17 guns have been confiscated from Clark County schools. School police have said they’re getting these guns online, or from their parents house’s.” She continued, “I don’t know why the Governor of Nevada didn’t want to do everything he could to save lives.”
“People in power keep saying that we don’t have a voice. Well, we do have a voice.”
– Franlisha Vasquez
Against this backdrop of continued gridlock in Washington (and to an extent, Carson City) and renewed activism hitting the streets, Gentleman holds hope for the future. “[Students are] coming out to demand that we do everything we can to keep us safe. You need to keep our schools safe, keep our communities safe. If you can’t keep us safe, we’ll vote you out. They need to know how loud we are.”
Franlisha Vasquez echoed a similar sentiment. “People in power keep saying that we don’t have a voice. Well, we do have a voice. Look what’s happening around us.”
These students, along with many of their allies in the community, will be using their voices in Las Vegas, in the nation’s capital, and all across the country this Saturday. What remains to be seen is how this will change the power dynamics. This weekend will feature marches, and perhaps the building of a lasting movement.