Rutland Teens Among Youth Calling For Gun Control Action In Wake Of Florida Shooting
High school students in Rutland say calls for better gun control by survivors of last week's deadly high school shooting in Florida have pushed them into action.
A small group has begun organizing a protest event in downtown Rutland, and they want middle and high school students across Vermont to join them.
This past week was February break, so classes weren't in session at Rutland High School. Local police used the opportunity to conduct active shooter drills in the school.
The drills had been scheduled for months, said school officials. But they took on added significance following the recent arrest of an 18-year old Poultney man accused of planning an attack on nearby Fair Haven Union High School.
Victoria Quint, an 18-year old senior at Rutland high School, said it's sad that these sorts of attacks have become the new normal.
"It's devastating every time that we have another one of these school shootings. ... You know, life should just stop for the whole country at that moment, but it doesn't anymore." — Victoria Quint, Rutland High School senior
"It's devastating every time that we have another one of these school shootings," Quint said. "But at the same time, we have so many of these school shootings, so as devastated as I was, I wasn't — I don't think — as upset as I wanted to be.”
“You know, life should just stop for the whole country at that moment, but it doesn't anymore," she added sadly.
Then she saw survivors from the Parkland, Florida, high school speak out on national news and demand action.
"When I heard that the students from the school in Florida were starting a movement and fighting back, I was really excited that somebody's finally taking a stand and really using the devastation that we did feel to turn around these events that just keep happening,” said Quint, nodding.
Quint and other students are organizing a "March For Our Lives" protest in downtown Rutland on March 24, to coincide with a similar, national event on the same day in Washington, D.C.
She says people will have a chance to express their opinions, talk about solutions and push for action — and she wants as many students as possible to be there.
Fellow Rutland High School senior Abby Hawkins says she's heard several other schools in Vermont may be planning similar events, and she hopes the idea will spread.
Thoughts and prayers simply aren't enough anymore, she said.
"We can't just keep holding our heads in, like, sorrowful anticipation at this point," Hawkins said. "These kids are out there ... I mean, we're the generation that's grown up with social media. We know how to use Twitter, we know how to use all of these platforms to organize.
"And I think with this, like, huge, overwhelming group of people coming together to make a change, I think at this point, nobody can ignore us."
"If we're old enough to have to bury our friends, then we're old enough to make some change." — Abby Hawkins, Rutland High School senior
The students want lawmakers in Vermont and in Washington to create stronger gun regulations, impose more thorough background checks and provide better gun education and protections in schools.
They said more funding for mental health services may also need to be part of the solution.
Hawkins said other countries have experienced similar mass shootings, but points out that their lawmakers took action.
While she admits hunting and guns are a part of life in Vermont, Hawkins said the idea that America's right to bear arms can't be questioned in any way is leaving too many kids dead. And she said even classmates who disagree with her politically are sick of the violence.
"It's our right to be able to live without the fear of gun violence, and I think that's an opinion regardless of what political beliefs you hold. I mean, that should hold true for everyone,” said Hawkins. “If we're old enough to have to bury our friends, then we're old enough to make some change."
Rutland High School Principal Bill Olsen wholeheartedly supports the students' efforts. In a letter he sent out to the Vermont Principals' Association and the Rutland Herald this week, Olsen wrote that in light of the escalating number of school shootings and lawmakers inability to address the problem, students may be the best hope for fixing it.
An excerpt of Olsen's letter reads:
"The adults in our society have been unable to agree on how to eradicate the cause of gun violence. By our lack of action, we are saying gun violence will always be with us and schools just have to figure out a way to better fortify themselves. So I am turning to young people to solve this. You have power. You have numbers. You are not beholden to a lobby or special interests. ... You have the ability to shame adults into action. And if we do not respond, you have the political power to remove us from our positions."
Quint said having the support of the principal and other adults in the community was important, and she appreciated his letter of encouragement.
But she and Hawkins had strong words of caution for lawmakers who won't take action, pointing out they're 18 and plan to vote — and their fellow classmates who may not be 18 yet? They will be soon.