Right here in Annapolis, students are assembling behind their colleagues in Parkland to speak up for their right to a safe education.
Mackenzie Boughey, a sophomore at the Severn School in Severna Park, watched with rising unease as the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, overwhelmed television and social media. First she felt horror. Then inspiration.
Seeing people her own age and younger standing up for the friends they lost, Boughey decided enough was enough. If a lone gunman could end and change so many lives in a small, safe town like Parkland, was any place safe?
That was a question worth talking about. Every place.
The determined 17-year-old athlete, bagpipe player and leader stepped up to help organize the March for Our Lives rally in Annapolis March 24 to encourage gun control and a safe future for students. Boughey sought to create a space where students, teachers and parents could safely express their outrage, ask for change — and be taken seriously.
Severn School students Maya Rogalski, Alexandra Szynal, Maddi Meyers and Lauren Carlson joined the first planning committee meeting on February 24, two weeks after the shooting.
Preparation or Prevention
All schools prepare for fires. Some schools practice for tornadoes or hurricanes. In the 1950s, students hid under their desks during bomb threat drills. In the early 2000s, sniper attacks had Chesapeake regional schools on high alert as students took shelter indoors.
In 2018, students are practicing active shooter drills to be ready for a rogue gunman on campus. There is a history of preparing kids for danger in school. In this case, the danger could be preventable.
Boughey’s Severn School is working hard on emergency preparedness and had an active shooter drill scheduled before the massacre in Parkland. She appreciates her school’s dedication to safety.
“It’s nice to know the school was thinking about preparing us before, but it shouldn’t be necessary,” Boughey says. “Our main goal is to fix it now before anything else happens.”
Something Else Happens
To that goal Boughey and fellow organizers are in support of changes that are radical in term of political achievability: improving background checks, raising the purchasing age to 21, limiting semi-automatic weapons and banning assault rifles altogether.
Representatives for the National Rifle Association have been outspoken about adding firearms to the equation instead of restricting them. From the County Council to the White House, many elected officials agree with that stand.
On March 1, President Trump met with NRA Lobbyist Chris Cox. After their meeting, Cox tweeted: “POTUS supports the Second Amendment, supports strong due process and doesn’t want gun control.”
Arming teachers makes guns the solution, not the problem, Boughey says.
“Teaching is a hard enough job without adding guns,” Boughey says, reflecting on her father’s work as a public school teacher. He is not interested in carrying a weapon in school, nor does he have the time for the training required.
Opinions like these — all sorts of opinions — are what Boughey hopes will be shared at the Annapolis March from Lawyers Mall to Susan Campbell Park. “This is about the students. We will be heard,” she says.
“The aim of the march,” she says, “is not about politics.” The conversation has turned political and angry on too many occasions. Organizers want to make sure the march does not go that way. Positive thinking and forward movement is their intention.
Opinions like Boughey’s are not safely expressed in some places. Movements like this march open themselves to criticism and intimidation.
On March 24, Boughey hopes Lawyers Mall will be a safe space for area students to think and wish and pray out loud.
Turning the Tide
The kids have their supporters.
Students left school by the thousands on Wednesday March 14, one month after the massacre in Parkland. Demonstrations lasted 17 minutes to honor each victim killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. As school administrators considered how to react, many principals, parents and teachers were supportive.
Parents are uniting behind their children to say enough is enough. On March 13, 7,000 shoes were laid on the lawn of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., to honor victims lost to gun violence. Calling on Congress to take action, protesting parents held signs that read #NotOneMore.
“I’m so glad to see students standing up for what they believe. People are quick to dismiss them because they’re students and they’re young. But I think they’re underestimating them,” says Mackenzie’s mother. Heather Boughey. “I’m so impressed with the students from Parkland. They’re well spoken, well researched and are fighting for a change that is desperately needed.”
There’s a long path ahead for any gun-control legislation to pass federally. But the steps already taken by the state of Florida show that on a smaller scale, changes can be made. The new Florida gun bill raises the minimum age for purchase to 21, bans bump stocks and creates a longer waiting period during the background check process.
It doesn’t, however, ban assault rifles, and it allows the arming of school personnel.
Legislation has a long way to go. But as far as it goes, change has come largely because of student activists like Boughey.
In Maryland, Congressman Anthony Brown welcomed the planning committee, as well as representatives from Moms Demanding Action, for an open discussion about school safety and gun control.
On February 27, Brown and Pennsylvania colleague Brian Fitzpatrick introduced a bipartisan bill to tighten gun safety by raising the purchasing age for assault rifles.
“This common-sense bipartisan bill is a critical first step that closes a dangerous loophole in our gun laws,” Brown said.
Both congressmen say they will do what they can to gather support for the bill from their colleagues. Their goal is to prevent Parkland from ever happening again.
On March 24, students will have their safe space. From 11am to 1pm, the March For Our Lives gathers in downtown Annapolis, beginning at Lawyers Mall.
For the first hour, ideas will be in the air as speakers share their thoughts on gun control.
Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley will be there, saying a few words in support of the march.
There’ll representatives from Moms Demanding Action, a powerful grassroots organization founded in response to the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012. Speakers from Moms Demanding Action will explain common-sense solutions, including legislative solutions, to gun violence.
The father of a Virginia Tech survivor has been invited. Students, teachers and school administrators will be there, and, organizers hope, elected officials who have the power of action.
After the speeches, the marchers make their way down to Susan Campbell Park at City Dock to sign a banner petition for gun-blocking legislation. There’ll be voter registration for students who’ll be 18 by Maryland’s primary election in June and the general election in November.
In the midst of the nationwide debate, Boughey and her peers stand resolute: “Whether we fix this or not,” she says, “we’ll still be here fighting.”