One month after the Parkland, Florida school shooting that left 17 dead, students across the nation are walking out of class to honor those killed, protest gun violence, and demand action from lawmakers
Approximately 100 walkouts are planned in the Puget Sound region.
Roosevelt High School Junior Scout Smissen was in elementary school when Sandy Hook happened and has gone through most of her education living with the real fear of a mass shooting on campus.
“Every single day I’m absolutely horrified. I keep specific tools in my bag in case something happens,” Scout says. “I keep door stops in my bag so that if there ended up being a shooter in the school I could close the door even harder… All these little precautions I’m consistently thinking about. Looking at the best exit, looking at places to hide.”
And after Parkland she says students across the country have had enough of gun violence in schools and enough inaction by lawmakers.
“We as students are entirely fed up with it. We feel unsafe at school. We feel unsafe at home. We feel unsafe in public. We as young people … are scared to live our everyday lives.”
Scout and Roosevelt Senior Gabe Rosenbloom are some of the organizers behind a walkout they expect will involve thousands of students from several Seattle Public schools.
“Our message is truly about ending gun violence. With all the recent shootings … we want to make it clear this is about ending gun violence.”
And for them, that means a ban on assault-style weapons such as AR-15s and high-capacity magazines, strengthening background checks to include mental health checks, and not allowing the sale of any gun to anyone under 21. But they say it’s not about destroying Second Amendment Rights.
“We’re not for banning all guns,” Scout says. “There are tons of places in the United States in which you need a gun to survive, whether that’s for hunting whether that’s for protection, whatever it is, we’re not coming after all guns. What we’re coming after is the unnecessary use of assault rifles or assault weapons of any kind.”
She hopes their activism can end the fear they are experiencing for the next generation. They also want their message heard by Congress and state lawmakers who just last week failed to act on Democratic Senator David Frockt’s bill to create stricter rules.
On top of raising the age to 21 and requiring enhanced background checks to purchase semi-automatic rifles, Frockt’s bill would have also tackled school safety by including several Republican-backed ideas, including the creation of an anonymous system for students to report someone who may be a threat and more.
“Put additional money into mental health counselors, we had an amendment on the bar to add some money in, at least for the first year while we did a fuller budget next year. And then the same thing for additional school resource officers and then the same thing with additional help for law enforcement to conduct additional background checks.”
And Frockt says in the final weeks of the session they worked hard to compromise, including stripping all shotguns from the bill, along with Department of Licensing paperwork required for state background checks that gun-rights advocates say would have amounted to a registry. In the end, Frockt says politics got in the way.
“Look my party was in the minority as well at times. There were times that we didn’t want to vote on something and we didn’t like the policy, so you would throw a lot of amendments up on the bar and you’d try to kind of slow down the process and slow down the action … it was going to take up hours of floor time. That’s a traditional way to sort of kill a bill or just avoid having to take a position. So I think that’s part of what was going on.”
The other part.
“Privately I had at least two or three individuals on the other side of the aisle who came up to me and said my district is very pro-gun, I can’t vote for the legislation the way you drafted it, but I don’t really disagree with what you’re doing and maybe I can help you get a few other votes on our side of the aisle. I mean I’m not making that up, that’s literally what was said to me.”
But Smissen says that’s the type of inaction by lawmakers these student walkouts are about.
And Frockt agrees.
“It’s disappointing. I don’t think this issue is going to go away. The youth and the students who are concerned, they’re the ones over the long run that are going to make a difference in this whole question of can we come to an accommodation of reasonable protections, reasonable regulations while protecting people’s Constitutional rights. I think this is a real fault line in American politics and we’ve got to come to grips with it because this is not normal. This is not a normal way to live.”
Frockt says Democrats behind his bill were willing to make even more compromises to get it done and believes it could have passed if it came up for a floor vote but that never happened.
He planned to attend one of Wednesday’s student events, as do other lawmakers. Governor Jay Inslee will be at Ballard High School. Scout and Gabe say they’re expecting several thousand students from Seattle schools to meet at Roosevelt at 10 a.m. and march down 15th to University of Washington’s Red Square where a rally against gun violence will be held at 11:30 a.m. There are also events planned at schools in Everett, Marysville, Kirkland, Sammamish, Tacoma and dozens of other cities.