By STEPHAN BISAHA
Alayna Nelson, a sophomore at Wichita Northwest High School, grew up hearing stories of repeated mass shootings on the news.
“Every single time this happened I always wanted to do something about it,” Nelson said.
Now, Nelson and other students in her generation are taking action against gun violence.
“I feel like I’m finally getting to the age where people will start listening to me,” she said.
The outpouring of students calling for gun control was set off by the recent mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 students and educators. Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where the shooting occurred, have become activists, telling their stories on national news shows and pleading the case for tougher gun laws.
Students said one of their biggest fears is that this issue will fade into the background in the coming weeks or months without any action being taken. That’s what happened after other shootings, including the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 that left 26 dead.
Nelson said the idea of another school shooting occurring without any legislative action “absolutely petrifies me.”
That’s one of the reasons why students across Kansas and the country are planning multiple school walkouts over the next few months. Nelson and other students at Wichita Northwest plan on participating in the April 20 walkout, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.
And if that date passes without action, Nelson says she’ll keep fighting.
“If something doesn’t change I’m going to stay angry,” Nelson said. “I know personally that me and my friends aren’t going to let it go.”
Wichita Public Schools officials are aware of the planned walkouts, but have yet to decide how they will be treated. The district has a policy that says walkouts and boycotts are not recognized or permitted.
Some have dismissed the student protests as pushing a left-wing agenda, but Nelson said there is no more unifying issue in the country.
“Because I think everyone in this nation can agree that it should be harder for kids to die in school,” she said.
Still, Nelson said not every student at Wichita Northwest agrees that gun control is the answer. While she estimates about half favor tighter gun laws, she says another 20 percent oppose it.
Other schools see a split in the opposite direction. Connor Moore attends a rural high school where he said “build a wall” chants are common. Moore said the more right-leaning student body makes gun control less of an open subject than it is at Wichita Northwest.
“A lot of time when you want to talk about these kind of things you have to be very quiet,” Moore said.
But Moore said he, alongside other students, still plans on walking out on April 20. He also wants to make sure the gun debate receives national attention until lawmakers approve some form of gun control.
“They’ll say don’t worry, this is all going to fade away really soon, and I don’t want it to happen,” Moore said. “Who is going to stand up?”
Sage Goering, another sophomore at Wichita Northwest, said she is recruiting more students to join her for the April 20 walkout. She said that students have an important voice in the discussion of school shootings.
“We are the victims,” Goering said. “If we understand that there’s a problem then the adults should, too.”