gun violence

Why This Student Leader Remains Hopeful Amid the Gun Violence Crisis

A University of California Davis student and member of Students Demand Action cites reasons for optimism.

Students protest in a call to combat gun violence.

Roan Thibault is painfully aware of the pessimism and frustration that accompany the growing gun violence crisis in the United States.

But amid the worst aspects of a devastating cycle of violence, the University of California Davis student and member of the National Advisory Board of Students Demand Action sees reasons for hope.

“Even though our country sometimes seems like it’s stuck in this seemingly endless cycle of tragedy striking, communities being torn apart, and our lawmakers failing to act … I think in many ways we’re winning,” he said.

He said that he has seen Republicans and Democrats coming together within the Senate to negotiate this issue, which he signifies as evidence things are moving in the right direction. He noted that there had not been a sustained national movement for gun safety in many years but following the elementary school massacre in Uvalde, Texas last year there is sustained protest across the nation that continues to grow.

Arguably the largest feat, he believes, is the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act – the first major gun safety law passed by Congress in nearly 30 years. The federal legislation – signed into law by President Biden in June 2022 – expands vital mental health services and provides additional support for States and districts to design and enhance initiatives that will promote safer, more inclusive, and positive school environments for all students, educators, and school staff.

Additionally, the outpouring of support and tenacity Thibault has observed in students across the country has only added to his optimism.

“I think young people like me understand that we can’t just sit around waiting for the next tragedy to happen,” he said. “It’s an incredibly enriching movement to be a part of; it’s empowering that there’s so many people out there who are just as passionate as I am.”

The tragedy at a Christian private school in Nashville, Tennessee last month is just the most recent in the increase in violence on school campuses in recent years and reflects a much deeper epidemic of gun violence in the United States.

According to the CDC, gun violence became the leading cause of death for U.S. children and teens in 2020. Education Week has been tracking school shootings since 2018 and, according to its database, over 119 such incidents have taken place since then.

The organization tracks shootings in which a firearm was discharged and where any person other than the suspect had a bullet wound resulting from the incident. The publication also includes only incidents that happen on a K-12 school property or on a school bus and that occur when school is in session or during a school-sponsored event. It doesn’t track cases in which the only shots fired were from a school resource officer (SRO) or police officer.

So far this year, there have been at least 39 incidents of gun fire on school grounds – resulting in 17 deaths and 30 injuries nationally.

“Being young in America really shouldn’t be a death sentence,” Thibault stressed.

Students Demand Action, a group affiliated with the pro-gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety, is an organization of young activists who have grown up amid America’s gun violence crisis.

Thibault said that the organization strives to address the full spectrum of gun violence, both at the legislative level and through things like voter registration. In 2020 the organization successfully registered over 100,000 young people to vote which he feels matters because it’s the public’s responsibility to elect the officials who will make the changes.

The most recent action organized by the group came on April 5, when thousands of students staged walkouts at schools and college campuses across the country to demand stricter gun control. Joined by supportive teachers and parents, students phoned their senators and House representatives to advocate legislation that ensures thorough background checks on all gun sales.

Thibault previously led his campus walkout at Crescenta Valley High School in La Crescenta and has continued his widespread efforts to call for change at the university level. Just last week he and other Davis students participated in a “week of action” calling on colleges and universities across the country to divest from the gun industry.

Students at nearly 30 colleges and universities around the country have joined the Everytown campaign, called #KillerBusiness, and are asking their colleges and universities to cut economic ties with the gun industry until these companies take accountability for their actions. Students – including Thibault – will be organizing on their campuses to put pressure on their institutions to reveal their investments and stop funding the gun industry.

While he remains hopeful that his generation will be the one to make a lasting difference, he also recognizes that there’s a lot of work left to be done.

“We need to continue to take action against the rising toll of gun violence in our country,” he said, urging others to join the movement. “The good thing is it’s really not as hard as you think to get involved.”

People can text STUDENTS to 64433 and be connected to different organizers in their states and communities. There are other options if students do not feel prepared or ready to start a new chapter on their own campuses – like joining a virtual text team or participating in various campaigns and initiatives.

One of these initiatives is the Students Demand Action Summer Leadership Academy. Entering its fifth year, the initiative provides an opportunity for youth in communities disproportionately impacted by gun violence to host summer programs to empower low-income high school students and survivors to become community organizers.

The initiative prioritizes removing barriers that keep marginalized student leaders from becoming leaders in the gun violence prevention movement. These barriers include access to meals, mentoring, and transportation at no cost to program participants and internship opportunities for student program leaders.

Thibault said they work with local students typically in South and East Los Angeles to teach them community organizing skills and expose them to the “amazing” work that gun violence prevention programs are doing.

“I know that the idea of getting involved or starting your own chapter can sometimes sound really intimidating, but we want to make it as easy as possible,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re committed to providing people everywhere with the outlet they need to turn their anger into action.”

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