Prescott Indivisible is once again pleased to welcome the viewpoint of our intern, Toby Chang. A 15-year-old student from Prescott, Toby provides us with a monthly column that includes his insights, analysis, and commentary on political events and issues that offer up his perspective as a member of today’s Gen Z youth. Toby provides a much-needed voice for his generation and offers important input on the issues confronting today’s youth and on how his generation views many of the issues and concerns facing all of us in these times.
July 2022: Gun Violence, Gun Politics, and Gen Z
To say that our politics in the last few weeks have been extremely eventful would be a massive understatement. Every last decision made right now – whether by lawmakers, by the courts, or by we, ourselves – will be inherited by our children and theirs, from the reversal of Roe v. Wade to the policy decisions made by the Federal Reserve attempting to curtail rampant inflation.
Students and their families are feeling much of the catastrophic consequences of these issues at the gas station and at home. Schools were built as an escape from that; a safe haven where students could simply be students who focus on academic, social, and emotional growth without harm. Yet for the past three decades, the sanctity and security of school campuses have been breached; thousands of school shootings have taken place, claiming countless young lives.
Though the tragedy of the Uvalde school shootings has since fallen out of top mainstream headlines, the grief and pain remain fresh, and not just for those directly affected. Lasting consequences reverberate throughout the community, impacting each student at Robb Elementary School. The heartache, fear and anxiety of students across our nation is palpable.
But in all this darkness, anger brews, fueling action and movement across the country. It has sparked activists, many of whom are teens, to take up action and pressure lawmakers to deliver change. Just here in Prescott last month, the local chapter of the student-led nation-wide “March for Our Lives,” was held just after and in the same vicinity as the Democrat-led “Rural Action Summit”. Students and elected leaders alike showed up at Prescott’s Mile High Middle School and marched to the downtown square to protest and to discuss gun violence in schools. Between students and senators, one attitude remained constant – they demand change.
Attendees at the “March for our Lives” event included recent local high school graduates Emma Wymore and Sedona Ortega. Their commitment to change and level of engagement inspires and reflects the passion of youth in our community. They, like many others, work to voice their frustration at inaction and ignorance in gun politics, despite these tragedies occurring over and over.
“As a student, and just as a human who cares about other humans and other students in schools, this has just happened way too many times,” said Ortega. “It is important for us to stand up and make sure that our voices are heard for…laws that make sure that we are protected as students, so we don’t have to go to school scared that we might be hurt, or that our teachers might be hurt.”
Emma Wymore also shares her perspective, explaining why these mass school shootings matter to many students like her:
“From Sandy Hook when I was in elementary school, to Parkland when I was in middle school, to now the past three shootings that I can recount as a senior…It’s personal, because I’ve seen it my whole life and nothing has changed. I did a walkout in 8th grade…and I’m back here today protesting the same thing. It’s frustrating.”
Earlier that day, Arizona Democratic Party Chair and state senator Raquel Tehran also echoed this sentiment: “It’s going to take years for us to see the benefits of legislation like this, but we need to start now. We have seen too many people lose their lives to gun violence, and it’s time we take action.”
Clearly, this serious and pressing issue continues to plague the minds of students, citizens, and legislators all across America. Each time, we vow never again. And yet, mass shootings still happen, time and time again. If we ever hope to move forwards, it is critical to pause and ask: Why is nothing moving forward? Why are our national and state legislature seemingly stagnant?
From a cultural perspective, the citizens of each state and their representatives view laws and reforms governing gun safety differently. When I asked State Senator Tehran why we’re not seeing more results than we are here in Arizona, she cited the outcome of recent efforts she and her party attempted:
“We [Democratic legislators,] presented a…very simple bill: background checks. [It] was unfortunately not moved to a vote, because Republicans did not support that bill. We were two votes short from having that legislation passed…we saw no action from Republicans.”
While some of our leaders in the legislature who push for gun reform seem to blame inaction on partisan politics, teenager Sedona Ortega pointed out a different contributing factor to our gridlock.
“A lot of the problems are rooted in misunderstanding and miscommunication, because people oftentimes assume that one person thinks something…and don’t actually talk about what they do believe…There are a lot of assumptions made about actions that certain politicians are making, or individual citizens’ [beliefs].”
Ortega thinks that despite disagreements on how to tackle an issue as complicated as gun violence, we can come together if we remove political stereotypes and presumptions. And our country has just recently been reminded of the truth of that belief.
Only a few weeks ago on June 25th, President Biden signed into law the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, making it Congress’ only major gun safety bill passed in decades. Reforms included in the new law involve mental health, age requirements, firearms trafficking, and early intervention. Its bipartisan standing is incredibly significant: For the first time in a long time, we’re making progress on a highly polarized issue, across party lines. It is a historic victory for activists and teens who for so many years have persistently pushed for gun law reform.
Following up this point, Congressman O’Halleran, who also attended the Rural Action Summit, commented on bipartisanship as it pertains to guns, saying that “…part of that common ground is the realistic evaluation that this is bad for all of society.” He envisions specific things that the public at large, whether left or right could potentially come together on; Background checks, red flag laws, domestic violence issues, buying a semiautomatic at age 18 versus 21 – “These are issues that we should be able to change, and bring about some level of safety within our society, and less fear within our society,” the Congressman stressed.
The effectiveness of gun control is a different discussion altogether. The fact is that countless students, families and communities are affected in a way that should not be acceptable to our society. It is my hope, as a member of the youth, that the lives of our students no longer be the price we need to pay in exchange for just these few steps forward in legislation. If we forget about Uvalde, so will our lawmakers. If we fail to alleviate pressure now—if we fail to permanently set aside the historical partisan political stereotypes and presumptions held on this issue——the wheels will stop turning again and needed reforms will be put off until the next tragedy.
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act just historically passed and signed into law is evidence that some degree of cooperation still exists in Washington. Bipartisan cooperation, youth activism, and adopting an empathetic perspective are crucial steps forwards; but there is still much to be done.
Toby Chang is a student at BASIS Prescott with a passion for civic government and politics. Early on in his life, he was exposed to the partisanship and division that has overrun our media, shaping his values on unity and civil discourse.
As a teenager, Chang knows how easy it is for young people to feel voiceless and powerless to take action against the issues that impact them. He believes that equipping them with the opportunities and skills to be civically engaged is the key to securing the future of our democracy.