Nina Vinik and David HoggPhoto by Wendi Kromash
Nina Vinik and David Hogg
Photo by Wendi Kromash

David Hogg, a student survivor of the Parkland, Fla., shooting that killed 14 students and three faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018, spoke to a crowd of several hundred people at Beth Emet the Free Synagogue on Feb. 21.

Midway through the evening, Evanston Township High School senior Mollie Hartenstein, a leader of the ETHS walkout on March 14, 2018, and Lamar Johnson, Youth Violence Prevention Coordinator of BRAVE Youth Leaders at the ARK of St. Sabina Church in Chicago, joined Mr. Hogg on a panel about gun violence prevention. Panel moderator Nina Vinik, Director of the Gun Violence Prevention & Justice Reform Program at The Joyce Foundation, fielded questions from the audience.

After that fateful day, Mr. Hogg and 23 other MSD students founded March for Our Lives, a national movement dedicated to ending gun violence through political action. He and his sister, Lauren, wrote a best-selling book, “#NeverAgain – A New Generation Draws the Line,” recounting what they experienced that day and how March for Our Lives was formed. Mr. Hogg has become a media presence on cable, television, radio and online, as well as a confident public speaker with a packed schedule of engagements. He plans to enroll at Harvard University in September.

Mr. Hogg spoke extemporaneously, only occasionally referring to his cell phone for a name or data point. He quickly took charge of the platform. He emphasized the need for everyone who is eligible to register and vote. To do anything less, he said, is “to continue the abuse of our human rights.” He said he has no patience for excuses when people say the National Rifle Association is too powerful. Inaction is unacceptable.

He believes gun violence is preventable. “We are not against each other as human beings,” he said. “Enough with the partisan debates. The enemy is gun violence.” Mr. Hogg encouraged the audience to become more informed and shared some of what he has learned about the gun industry. For example, he asked if the crowd knew “that more than 50% of young people who commit school shootings use their parents’ guns, yet there are no liability laws that penalize the parents.”  He talked about the effective lobbying and donations to political campaigns by the NRA that grant special legal protections against liability to gun manufacturers. In his estimation, this highlights the importance of campaign finance reform and the need to “hold [politicians] accountable.”

Mr. Hogg said he also feels strongly about the need to limit gun access to people who are known domestic abusers, stalkers or those with restraining orders; the fact that men are taught to feel anger and violence but not encouraged to reach out for help; the importance of waiting periods before finalizing all gun sales; the necessity of having suicide awareness materials available and posted in gun shops. He said people should be asking more about where the problems originate rather than who should be blamed.

On the topic of school safety, Mr. Hogg described a typical school safety protocol: armed guards, single point of entry, small windows, bullet proof glass, metal detectors and barbed wire around the perimeter. It is no coincidence that “safe” schools start to feel like jails. A better and more effective solution, he believes, is to lower the average class size to a manageable number, pay teachers more and create an environment where teachers get to know and understand their students. The audience met this sentiment with applause.

Mr. Hogg was quick to acknowledge that had the Parkland shooting occurred in a Black community, it would not have received nearly as much media attention. He is frustrated by the unfairness and inequity of this reality. The March for Our Lives movement is for everyone, he said – all ages, races, religions and communities. Violence affects everyone—no group is immune.

Toward the end of the evening, an audience member asked, “What do you think adults don’t understand about you?” Mr. Johnson answered, “We are unfiltered, uncensored. We don’t care about being politically correct. We are demanding change.”  Mr. Hogg talked about how his generation, born after the shooting at Columbine High School, has grown up with school safety drills but still do not feel safe. Their movement has made progress in the past year, he said, but there is still much more to do.

He encouraged each person in the room to take action. Register to vote, he said. Vote. Write to elected officials. Sign a petition. Donate money. Donate time. More information is available at marchforourlives.com and tinyurl.com/gvpaction.