Gen Z Rises: Mass shootings push students to stand up and speak out


Emily Tan

The recent shootings in Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton have inspired students and teenagers to take a stance against guns.

by Alysa Suleiman and Varsha Rammohan

Fifteen-year-old Adrian Palomares flees from yet another result of America’s growing gun problem: the Gilroy Garlic Festival mass shooting, which left three dead and 13 injured on July 28.

Six days later, a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, was the next victim of gun violence. Less than 24 hours later, a gunman took ten lives in Dayton, Ohio.

In a span of one week, 35 people lost their lives as a result of the three senseless mass shootings in the United States. The deaths represent a national epidemic, one that has been highlighted by partisan debates over constitutional rights, domestic terrorism and mental health.

While left-wing congressional representatives continue to clash with the administration over gun reform, the problem has surprisingly affected an often reserved subset of the population: high school youth. 

Like Adrian, Bethy Holderman, a sophomore who attends Christopher High School in Gilroy, California, was volunteering the Gilroy Garlic Festival when she first heard the shots ring out. She initially thought the sound came from firecrackers before realizing the situation and dropping to the ground in fear. 

“High school students as a whole need to build a safe place for people to talk and get help and to just be there for everyone,” Bethy said. “I would like to tell [members of Congress who oppose gun reform] to look at all the victims of these shootings in the eyes and listen to their stories. It’s heartbreaking to hear or just read all of the stories from people, but especially young kids.” 

This current generation of high school students has taken a stance in politics as a result of having experienced the start of what is a major climate dilemma, resistance from the administration regarding youth-related issues like LGBTQ+ rights and immigration and the increasing danger of mass shootings, according to Politico.

Presidential candidates for the 2020 election have also expressed their sentiments and emphasized candidacy promises for tighter gun regulation in the future. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-C.A. pledged to implement universal background checks in the first Democratic primary debate.

“I will take executive action and I will put in place the most comprehensive background check policy we’ve had. I will require the ATF to take the licenses of gun dealers who violate the law. And I will ban by executive order the importation of assault weapons,” Harris said in the debate. “It is enough. There have been plenty of good ideas from members of the United States Congress. There has been no action. As president, I will take action.”

Both the Gilroy and El Paso shootings occurred in areas that have a high immigrant population. The Gilroy shooter opened an Instagram account a couple days prior to the shooting, where he expressed support for a white supremacist book and anger towards Mexican immigrants and Silicon Valley workers, according to CBS San Francisco.

Similarly, NBC reported that the El Paso shooter took to the extremist message board 8chan to post an anti-immigrant manifesto, mentioning the Christchurch mosque shooting in New Zealand as an inspiration for his actions. 

As a Mexican-American teenager living in the Bay Area, a region filled with immigrants, Roberto Salgado (11) expressed concern for his ethnicity.

“I think Mexican Americans would feel really unsafe where they are right now,” he said. “Especially with our president, it’ll be tough on them for sure.”

Students dealing with gun violence are also reminded of last year’s Parkland shooting, where 17 students and teachers were killed. The shooting sparked a mass student-led movement, March for Our Lives, which symbolized the first major act of gun reform advocacy involvement from Generation Z. 

“I just think that it’s really unfair right now,” junior Sofia Fernandez, who is also of Mexican heritage, said. “I’ve never really had to deal with racist things, but I know my family has had [to]. It’s just so surreal that right now my race is being targeted because of this whole immigration thing that’s happening, and it’s not okay.”

These recent shootings follow Parkland as they continue to fuel teen participation and awareness in politics, especially with the 2020 presidential election rapidly approaching. In order to have their views and perspectives represented in government, it is imperative for youth to take a stand together and lobby for their rights.

“Students should speak up more for what America is. They should try to come up with their own laws over debates like gun control,” Roberto said. “Students should speak out more to make sure that stuff like this doesn’t happen again.”