At least 100 Oxford High School students gathered inside their school’s gymnasium to demand action on gun violence. | Courtesy photo
When the clock struck 1:15 p.m. on Wednesday, the classroom doors at Oxford High School opened. Students streamed out of them.
They walked, determinedly, to a school gymnasium. Standing in a circle, they spoke the words that students across the United States are saying in the wake of yet another mass shooting at a school: Children should not be attending other children’s funerals. They should not be dying in their classrooms.
“Today was filled with anxiety in a way, but seeing the turnout and how many people, including in our own school, believe that change is needed is encouraging,” said Rebekah Schuler, a junior at Oxford High School who organized one of the hundreds of walkouts that students held across Michigan and the country to demand action on gun reform.
Walkouts were held across Michigan, including at Franklin High School in Livonia, Whitmore Lake Elementary School, Hillside Middle School in Kalamazoo, Dundee High School, Clarkston High School, Royal Oak High School, Northville High School, Cody High School in Detroit and Portage Northern High School.
Like the hundreds of thousands of students who have experienced gun violence at their schools over the past quarter century, Schuler and her peers know what it means to survive a mass shooting. On Nov. 30, 2021, a mass shooting at Oxford High School killed four students: Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; Hana St. Juliana, 14; and Justin Shilling, 17.
“I was a sophomore last year, and it’s one of the things for a lot of people: Until it affects you, you don’t realize how much of an issue it is,” Schuler said of gun violence.
A member of Students Demand Action, a group of youth activists working to end gun violence in the United States, Schuler organized Wednesday’s walkout with Aubrey Greenfield, a senior at Oxford High School and a member of March for Our Lives.
“There was a lot of anger and frustration after [the shooting at Oxford], and I wanted change for my younger siblings,” Schuler said. “I have four of them, and I wanted to make sure it didn’t happen to them and didn’t happen to other people. When it happened at Uvalde and Nashville, realizing there were kids the same age as my siblings hurt.”
In a country where gun violence is the leading cause of death for children and where there have been 139 mass shootings this year alone, including at Michigan State University, change must occur, Schuler said.
“It’s become normal in our country when it shouldn’t be,” Schuler said of gun violence. “It shouldn’t be that kids are fearing school because of safety.”
Legislation meant to curb gun violence in Michigan is expected to soon be signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Last month, the Democratic-led Senate passed 11 bills that would mandate universal background checks for all firearm purchases in Michigan, require that gun owners safely store firearms that could be accessed by minors, and permit a court to order the temporary removal of guns from someone who may be a danger to themselves or others.
The Democratic-led House has also passed legislation around universal background checks and safe storage but has yet to greenlight the extreme risk protection order bills. They are expected to take that up following the Legislature’s spring break.
The bills addressing universal background checks and safe storage are now on Whitmer’s desk. Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills), who chairs the bicameral Firearm Safety and Violence Prevention Caucus, told the Advance on Wednesday that the governor is expected to wait until she has the extreme risk protection order bills — often referred to as red flag legislation — on her desk before she will sign the gun reform package.
For years, Democratic lawmakers in a Republican-led Legislature have introduced gun reform bills that languished in committee, never receiving hearings or votes from Republican leaders unwilling to take up the issue. After they won control of the state House and Senate in November’s election, Democratic lawmakers made gun violence legislation a priority. Democratic senators introduced the 11-bill package days after the mass shooting at MSU, and lawmakers have noted they had been working on the legislation long before that.
“I’m proud of us for moving as quickly as possible and doing so much good work,” Bayer said in an interview on Wednesday. “Now a lot of the country is watching what we’re doing in Michigan. We’re doing the right thing, and we’ll keep working at it. We’ll get that done and more. We’re setting a really good example, showing the rest of the country you can do things.”
For students now living with the trauma that has filled their lives following mass shootings, those bills are the beginning of a world in which children do not have to grow up in the shadow of gun violence, Schuler said.
“A common misconception from a lot of people is that those of us wanting change want to take away guns,” Schuler said. “That’s not what we want. But we want background checks and safe storage and just safety for our schools and our kids.”
With legislative change, Schuler said, students hopefully will never again have to walk out of their classes and demand politicians care that children do not die.
Perhaps, in the days to come, traumatized students will not have to repeat the names of those who died from gun violence. But, on Wednesday, they did.
From the mouths of at least 100 students standing in a gymnasium at Oxford High School came the names of those who died in the United States’ most recent mass shooting at a school: Evelyn Dieckhaus, Mike Hill, William Kinney, Katherine Koonce, Cynthia Peak and Hallie Scruggs.
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