After a deadly mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida this past winter, students are speaking up and taking action hoping to make change across the nation. Founded by the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the “Never Again” movement spread across the country and made it to Morgantown through Rebecca Brazaitis, a sophomore at Morgantown High School.
Brazaitis passionately wants to change gun laws and school safety from the ground up, starting in her own neighborhood. Morgantown High School participated in the nation-wide walkout earlier this year and hosted a March for our Lives event after that. Brazaitis also organized a town hall panel at the Church of the Brethren in Morgantown in April. Panelists included Morgantown student, Emma Gray, the Monongalia County Schools Extended Day director, Julia Hamilton and local police officer, Sergeant Dave Wilfong. They discussed issues related to guns and school safety. Brazaitis said she left the event feeling inspired.
“I think as long as we keep on the conversation, keep talking about these issues, I think that can eventually make a bigger impact,” Brazaitis said.
Brazaitis said it took the group of Parkland students to speak out on the issues for others to realize this is not right. Because Brazaitis is the same age as the Parkland shooting victims, she said she feels more connected to the issues and that students are finally realizing that if they want to see change, they need to make it happen themselves.
“Students are now feeling a bit more empowered saying, ‘Oh, we’re the future.’”
She said students who are standing up for their convictions today are our tomorrow’s leaders, and she hopes pushing for change now will help end a violent status quo. Rebecca plans to host more events in hopes of keeping the conversation about gun violence moving forward.
The last high school shooting in West Virginia happened on February 9th, 1978, when a student opened fire in St. Albans. Although that was 40 years ago, some students still say they worry about their safety.
Although background checks are required to buy a gun in West Virginia, anyone can carry a concealed gun without a permit. Nick Demedici,general manager at Defense in Depth, a shooting range in Morgantown, said he still encourages buyers to get a permit and the training that comes with it. He also said that owning a gun comes with huge responsibilities.
“A gun is the furthest thing from a magic wand you can imagine and unfortunately a lot of people will think that they are magic wands, and that if I go buy a gun, then I'm gonna be safe,” he said, “and that's the furthest thing from the truth.”
While Demedici emphasizes responsible gun ownership, Brazaitis thinks the solution is political. She thinks buying a gun is too easy, and said she’s frustrated that students seem to be taking the issue more seriously than elected officials.
“Our nation's leaders aren't really taking this as a big issue. Students are raising their voices and they’re saying this is what we need and [elected officials] are not really doing anything about it.”
One researcher at West Virginia University said the debate around school safety has been too focused on guns, though. Walter DeKeseredy, Ph.D., is director of the Research Center on Violence at WVU. He’s spent a lot of time studying schools where shootings have been averted over the years. His research indicates that schools need to work harder at cultivating healthy values.
“We have to talk about the importance of creating kinder schools and kinder cyberspace as well, creating cultures of support rather than marginalization,” Dr. DeKeseredy explained.