18-year-old Emma Gonzalez is being hailed as a hero after she called on the US government to act on gun violence.
An 18-year-old student has been widely praised as a future political leader after she made an impassioned speech about the need for gun control in the US. At a rally over the weekend, Emma Gonzalez condemned politicians for failing to act on gun violence and promised: “We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks… We are going to be the last mass shooting.”
Gonzalez, a senior at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was one of those who survived the Valentine’s Day mass shooting that left 17 people dead. Along with her classmates and other US teenagers, she is now helping to lead the #NeverAgain movement against gun violence in the US. A national student walkout is planned for 20 April, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre.
Below are some of the most moving moments from Gonzalez’s speech.
“Every single person up here today, all these people should be home grieving,” said Gonzalez. “But instead we are up here standing together because if all our government and president can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see.”
The teenager went on to highlight the laxity of Florida’s gun laws. US citizens are not required to pass a background check or obtain a license when purchasing a firearm in the south-eastern state. Neither do they have to register the fact that they have bought a gun.
“We certainly do not understand why it should be harder to make plans with friends on weekends than to buy an automatic or semi-automatic weapon,” she said.
“Maybe the adults have gotten used to saying ‘it is what it is’, but if us students have learned anything, it’s that if you don’t study, you will fail. And in this case if you actively do nothing, people continually end up dead, so it’s time to start doing something.”
Gonzalez went on to invoke the case of Tinker v Des Moines, a historic 1969 US Supreme Court decision that upheld the rights of high school students to wear black armbands to school in protest of the Vietnam War.
“We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks,” she promised. “Not because we’re going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America, but because… we are going to be the last mass shooting. Just like Tinker v Des Moines, we are going to change the law. That’s going to be Marjory Stoneman Douglas in that textbook and it’s going to be due to the tireless effort of the school board, the faculty members, the family members and most of all the students. The students who are dead, the students still in the hospital, the student now suffering PTSD, the students who had panic attacks during the vigil…”
Gonzalez didn’t shy away from challenging Donald Trump directly. She quoted the president’s Twitter response to the shooting and attacked his record of accepting money from the NRA, the organisation dedicated to lobbying for gun rights in the US. The BBC reports that the NRA spent $11.4m (£8.1m) supporting Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign, and $19.7m (£14m) opposing Hillary Clinton.
The student also condemned the president for repealing an Obama-era regulation “that would have made it easier to block the sale of firearms to people with certain mental illnesses”.
“There is one tweet I would like to call attention to. ‘So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled for bad and erratic behaviour. Neighbours and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities again and again.’ We did, time and time again… We need to pay attention to the fact that this was not just a mental health issue. He would not have harmed that many students with a knife.”
“If the president wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy and how it should never have happened and maintain telling us how nothing is going to be done about it, I’m going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association,” Gonzalez continued.
“You want to know something? It doesn’t matter, because I already know. Thirty million dollars. Divided by the number of gunshot victims in the United States in the one and one-half months in 2018 alone, that comes out to $5,800. Is that how much these people are worth to you, Trump?”
Gonzalez concluded her speech by calling on the American public to vote out politicians who supported lax gun laws.
“The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice – and our parents – to call BS,” she said.
“Companies [are] trying to make caricatures of the teenagers these days, saying that we are all self-involved and trend-obsessed and they hush us into submission. [But] when our message doesn’t reach the ears of the nation, we are prepared to call BS.
“Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this, we call BS.
“They say tougher guns laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS.
“They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS.
“They say guns are just tools like knives and are as dangerous as cars. We call BS.
“They say no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS.
“[They say] that us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works. We call BS.”
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Images: Rex Features