State Politics

Parkland students who became activists after massacre just won a prestigious global prize

Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., closes her eyes and cries as she stands silently at the podium for the amount of time it took the Parkland shooter to go on his killing spree during the “March for Our Lives” rally in support of gun control in Washington, Saturday, March 24, 2018.
Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., closes her eyes and cries as she stands silently at the podium for the amount of time it took the Parkland shooter to go on his killing spree during the “March for Our Lives” rally in support of gun control in Washington, Saturday, March 24, 2018. AP

After 17 of their peers were gunned down in the classrooms and hallways of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, a group of teenagers from the Parkland school banded together to work to change the nation’s gun laws and offer a platform for students who worry their school will be next.

They rallied outside a local courthouse, appeared on Sunday news shows and motivated hundreds of thousands of people to march on Washington and in cities nationwide as part of an unprecedented day of action.

On Tuesday, the college-bound activists realized the global reach of their anti-gun violence movement as they were awarded the 2018 International Children’s Peace Prize, joining the likes of Pakistani education-rights advocate Malala Yousafzai as winners of the annual prize.

March For Our Lives leaders David Hogg, Emma González, Jaclyn Corin and Matt Deitsch received the award during a ceremony in Cape Town, South Africa. Anti-apartheid leader Desmond Tutu, the winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, presented the group with the award and said he considered the movement to be one of the most significant instances of youth-led activism in recent memory.

“The peaceful campaign to demand safe schools and communities and the eradication of gun violence is reminiscent of other great peace movements in history,” said Tutu, the former general secretary of the South African Council of Churches. “I am in awe of these children, whose powerful message is amplified by their youthful energy and an unshakable belief that children can — no, must — improve their own futures. They are the true changemakers who have demonstrated most powerfully that children can move the world.”

In the months since the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the student leaders from Parkland have organized a nationwide voter registration tour and recruited a host of celebrities to speak on behalf of their cause. The students have emphasized from the early days of their activism that young people would remain at the core of their mission and organizational structure and that they would not be co-opted by special interests groups or wealthy backers.

Their 10-point plan of action includes banning high-capacity magazines, or those that hold more than 10 rounds, expanding the federal background check requirement to cover private sales, and ban semiautomatic assault rifles from public use. Their platform also calls for the strengthening of laws that disarm domestic abusers, funding research of gun violence as a public health issue and empowering the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to better regulate guns in America.

Since their movement began, more than 25 states have passed some form of gun violence legislation consistent with their goals, the group says.

In Florida, their high-profile efforts — along with persistent lobbying from the families of those who died in the Feb. 14 shooting — helped motivate a Republican-controlled Florida Legislature to pass statewide gun restrictions for the first time in two decades.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act includes a three-day waiting period for all firearms sales and raises the legal gun-purchasing age to 21. It also created risk-protection orders that can prohibit violent or mentally ill individuals from owning weapons and allow police to petition a judge to freeze someone’s rights to own firearms if they are considered a danger to themselves or others.

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