While hundreds of students walked out of their classrooms to protest gun violence Friday on the anniversary of the Columbine High School mass murder, about 400 students talked about their concerns with Delaware U.S. Sen. Chris Coons.
Students from Appoquinimink High and Middletown High gathered to talk about more than 50 mass shooting incidents in the 19 years since Columbine. Coons told the juniors and seniors that the number of school shootings that have occurred in their lifetime would have been unthinkable when he was their age.
Coons said he thought the Sandy Hook school shooting of 20 first-graders and six school staff in Newtown, Connecticut, would have been the catalyst to bring about change.
“I for sure thought that would be it,” Coons said. “That we would take strong and decisive action to change our culture and our laws … That we’d take stronger actions to take guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them while still respecting the Second Amendment.”
Since that has not happened, “I have a feeling that we as the leaders and adults of the country have failed you,” Coons said.
He said he’s been encouraged by students in Delaware and around the country standing up and fighting for change following the activism and vocal pressure applied by students following the shootings in Parkland, Florida.
“I think yours is the generation that is finally going to get us to fix this,” he said.
Students asked Coons how to make sure their voices are heard.
Standing up and asking that question of a member of the U.S. Senate is a good start, said the Democrat.
“You need to stay engaged, it’s hard work. It requires you having attention to this task in a way that we haven’t,” Coons said. “If you want your voice heard, make sure it’s heard not once, not twice, but repeatedly.”
Members of Congress get reports on the number of constituent calls on and what they’re calling about, he told the students. So far this year, calls about net neutrality have dominated the phone calls and emails Coons’ office has received.
“We didn’t get into this mess quickly. It took a while. We’re not going to get out of it quickly,” Coons said.
He encouraged students to keep reaching out to their elected officials, regardless of their views on gun control.
“If you stay engaged and keep saying when you meet us in person … ‘I want to know what you’ve done about gun violence,’ ‘I want to know what you’ve done about mental health,’ ‘I want to know what you’ve done about respecting the Second Amendment.’
“Whatever your view is, make this the first, second, third thing you talk to me about,” he said. “Because, over time, that’s how change happens.”