On New Year’s Day in Huntsville, Alabama, the United States witnessed its first mass shooting of the year at a house party where one person was killed and three were injured. Since then, there have been 49 others according to Gun Violence Archive. The February Florida school shooting was the most deadly with 17 high school students and staff killed with another 17 injured. A student led response has provoked massive countrywide protest demanding changes in gun legislation. Speakers at numerous rallies have called for a change from gun buyer age from 18 to 21, returning the ban on assault rifles, a ban on high capacity magazines and mandatory background checks.
Young Latinos could be pivotal in changing gun legislation. From Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles and major cities in between, Latino students have assumed organizing and speaking positions and have helped to comprise major crowds. This is not surprising considering the swelling numbers of young Latino students across the country.
Latinos have accounted for half the U.S. population growth since 2000, according to the Pew Research Center. Unlike the aging white population, 44 percent of the 27 million eligible Latino voters are millennials. From 2012 to 2016, 3.2 million Latinos turned 18. In Colorado, 21 percent of the population is Latino, comprising 14 percent of the eligible voting population. One third of Colorado’s Latino voters are under the age of 29.
Emma Gonzalez survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida on Valentine’s Day. Days after that shooting, Gonzalez spoke at a Florida gun control rally, her speech going viral when in response to current gun laws, she said “We call BS.” Along with other students, Gonzalez spoke at the Washington D.C. March for Our Lives rally, again making viral news when she stopped speaking for minutes calling attention to victims of the Florida shooting. The second-generation Cuban-American continues to call for stricter gun control on her Twitter account @Emma4Change. Gonzalez was one of five survivors of MSD High School featured on the cover of Time magazine’s April cover.
Latino students were out in full force across the country. The beginning of spring break didn’t stop Denverite Aitiana Wilson from attending the Los Angeles march on Saturday, where she is vacationing. A second-generation Mexican-American, Wilson marched because, “I am disgusted and tired of seeing tragedy my whole life due to the lack of attention in the gun system.” She continued, “I want to see our politicians take action and increase gun control to make it harder for people to obtain guns.”
Denver School of the Arts student, Gabe Dave, continues to be involved in the gun control movement. He jumped into involvement with the student walk out last month when his school joined with East High School students to march downtown for the Civic Center Park rally. Last Saturday he visited Civic Center Park again, in hopes of spurring stricter gun control. According to Dave, he “Felt empowered and felt unity of coming together.” Dave was also “…sad that they had to come together under these circumstances, but given past segregation and separation, I feel we are slowly coming to a place of unity.”
Dave noted a generational difference in their efforts. “We are a more liberal generation. We are independent from the more conservative and closed off generation. We are getting our independence, coming of age and realizing our voice.” At the March for Our Lives in Denver, Dave marched with friends from school but also networked with other students from Boulder and Colorado Springs. He found a kinship in the energetic perspective they brought. His reasons for marching echoed others, “The real issue is that laws are too laid back to purchase guns and to make modifications to make guns more dangerous.”
It is only fitting that another youngster, State Representative Jovan Melton, was the legislator to introduce a resolution in support of the Denver March for Our Lives.
Much of the effect regarding gun laws is likely yet to be realized. Not willing to wait for legislators to pass laws, students are intent on voting reluctant lawmakers out of office. Hundreds of volunteers were present at the DC march to register students to vote. Thousands eligible to vote in the midterm elections are now registered.
On the Rock the Vote homepage, an organization known to register young concertgoers, registering to vote is encouraged under the hash tags #IWILLMARCH, #NVRAGAIN and #MarchForOurLives, “We marched on March 24th for the thousands of young people who are killed by gunfire every year. We marched to support students across the country who are demanding action to end gun violence.”
Head Count is another organization designed to register voters at concerts. Numerous gun control rallies comprised of young people has invigorated their efforts. Their web site touts, “Saturday was absolutely incredible. HeadCount volunteers helped register nearly 5,000 voters at March for Our Lives events in 30 cities. This shatters every single HeadCount record. We are in such awe of our volunteers, and of the students of America who put these marches on. But our work doesn’t stop now.” Their new goal is to register students at every high school across the country.
Besides legislators, newly registered voters are taking aim at the gun lobby. Denver student Aitiana Wilson noted, “I believe the people to blame are the NRA for putting price before life and the government for not taking action even though there have been many lost lives.”
Gabe Dave shared Wilson’s views. He wants to hold legislators like Marco Rubio, who receive substantial NRA donations, accountable. He says the conversations have, “Escalated from blaming the shooters to also looking to the American government. They have the power to stop it and they are not doing it. If the fix is falling upon the people, we are going to fix it.”
It doesn’t appear students will stop until legislation changes. Another countrywide walkout is planned for April 20th, the anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. Dave’s message for adults: “Support us. March with us.”