Dick's Sporting Goods' Feb. 28 decision to pull assault-style weapons from its store shelves across the country is a sign to Arroyo Grande High School student Casey Crouch that student activism can spark change.
As president of the AGHS Young Progressives, Crouch is helping to organize his fellow students' participation in the 17-minute-long Enough! National School Walkout on March 14 at 10 a.m. Each minute of the walkout stands for a student who died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, after a 19-year-old former student opened fire on the school with an AR-15 semi-automatic-style weapon.
In response, Stoneman Douglas students have been loud in their cries for change, advocating for common sense gun laws and warning lawmakers that their time is up should they stand by and do nothing.
"It's truly amazing how those students have risen up to make their voices heard," Crouch said. "I think that people are honestly fed up. I think that this administration has created an environment in which once politically apathetic students have realized that they can make their voices heard."
The Young Progressives are attempting to organize the March 14 walkout in a way that can bring students together to rally against school shootings. So far, the AGHS event's Instagram account has about 350 followers, and Crouch said about 40 students attended a recent planning meeting for the event, which is slated to included speakers and music.
Although Crouch realizes that conversations about the Second Amendment can be inherently partisan and messy, he believes guns in schools should be an issue that straddles the line between conservatives and liberals. He said AGHS is pretty evenly divided ideologically, but Crouch hopes that students will join the walkout no matter where they fall politically.
"We have had a little bit of blowback—not from any sort of body on campus—but from individuals who I would imagine don't agree with our ideology," he said.
School administrators have been supportive of the student group's plans to participate in the national walkout, and Crouch said he's heard the same from other area schools.
Ryan Pinkerton, assistant superintendent of business services for San Luis Coastal Unified School District, said District Superintendent Eric Prater spoke with high school principals about the issue on Feb. 27.
"The district supports our administrators working with students for the national school walkout planned for March 14," Pinkerton wrote in an email, adding that different activities are planned for each school site. "We will support our students in sharing their views on these issues and in trying to make a difference in our society."
The Women's March SLO, which is fielding questions and sharing information about the planned walkout, said students from several SLO County elementary, middle, and high schools are planning to join in. Spokesperson Andrea Chmelik said the organization is encouraging students who want to participate to talk with their families and school sites to figure out the action that works best for them.
"The walkout is one of many ways that students can engage in the democratic process of creating the future they want and all people deserve. In addition, students are taking a moment to remember their peers across the country who have lost their lives," Chmelik wrote via email. "Now our students will stand up in even larger numbers to demand that not one more child be sacrificed due to lack of action."
Gail Baum has 13-year-old twins at Templeton Middle School who want to participate in the walkout. She said it sounds like the school is going to allow the kids to join the protest but is still waiting on the details.
"I'm 100 percent behind it. I'm proud of them," Baum said. "These kids are savvy, and I think Congress is missing the boat because they may be out of a job soon."
Baum said her sons joined her in attending the Women's March organized last January in San Francisco. Although they don't totally understand what all of the women's rights movements (such as #MeToo) mean, she said they do have a sense that things need to be different and are starting to feel empowered to speak up. They just want to feel safe going to school, Baum said.
Thinking back to her own days in elementary school, she can remember doing earthquake drills a few times a year. Now, whenever she gets an email from the school principal or the district during the school day, her throat tightens a little bit.
"Never in my life did I think that I was going to be scared to drop my kids off at school," she said. "Our teachers need to be teaching. Arming our teachers is ludicrous. We're raising money to give them supplies and Kleenex. Now you want to give them a gun?"
The Baum family lives on a ranch in Templeton, and guns are a part of that lifestyle. Weapons like shotguns and rifles help put dying animals out of their misery or kill vermin like gophers. But, Baum said, she doesn't need an assault-style weapon to deal with those kinds of things—and neither should any other civilian.
"There's a fine line there," she said. "You don't want to take away anyone's rights, but something needs to change." Δ
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