In this past year as a student activist for gun safety, I’ve learned that America’s gun problem is a multifaceted issue. Gun violence includes incidents like mass shootings, gang and domestic violence, and suicides.
I first started in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. With the help of volunteers from local Moms Demand Action groups, my friends and I founded the first chapter of Students Demand Action for Gun Sense in America (SDA) in Miami. Because we were so inspired by the young voices behind March for Our Lives, we focused a lot of our work on empowering the youth to speak out and educating our community.
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In our first month, we gained a following on social media and gave a platform to students who were participating in walkouts and local protests. We also held meetings to educate our community about the issue and meet political candidates who support us and our mission.
Preparing for our first meeting, I had to do research and learn about America’s history with shootings, more specifically school shootings. According to data from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security, there were 97 gun violence incidents in schools in 2018. This is the highest it has been since the data started being recorded in 1970, and is 64% higher than the previous record of 59 incidents in 2006. This came as a shock to me because the only ones I could remember were Sandy Hook and Parkland. This problem was bigger than I had ever imagined.
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The longer I was involved the more I learned how racism and sexism also play a role in all this. Death by gun disproportionately targets black men more than any other group in America, and women in the U.S. are 16 times more likely to be killed with a gun than a woman in other high-income countries. Suicide is also a great contributor to the gun violence epidemic. Nearly 66% of gun deaths are suicides and access to a gun increases the risk of death by suicide by three times. These are social issues that America is already known to have, and making guns easily available is bound to raise the stakes.
Universal background checks
After learning all this, I have come to the conclusion that universal background checks are the perfect first step to more responsible gun ownership in America. In my first few weeks in this organization, I learned the term universal background checks. This is a policy that requires a criminal background check for every gun sale; this is the kind of common-sense legislation we advocate for.
No law-abiding citizen should fear a background check. Studies show that 94% of Americans support these laws, which includes 74% of NRA members. So why is it that so many people support this change yet nothing happens?
People support this change because it simply works. When Connecticut passed a law requiring background checks on all handgun sales, the state saw a 40% decrease in gun homicides and a 15% decrease in gun suicides. In Missouri, when they decided to repeal its purchase permit law, they experienced a 25% increase in gun homicide and a 16% increase in gun suicide. This is not to say that this policy is a panacea for our nation’s gun problems, but it is a bipartisan step in the right direction.
My group and I have been advocating this for change, and many like it, for close to a year. After the Parkland shooting, Florida was the first state to enact the guardian program, a voluntary statewide program to arm school personnel. This enraged us even more and so we took to the streets. We hosted protests against NRA-funded Marco Rubio and motivated students to participate in school walkouts and to write to their representatives in D.C. and Tallahassee.
SDA’s leadership board has also met with many of our representatives and has worked on the campaigns of Moms Demand-approved candidates during the 2018 midterms, some of whom were Annette Taddeo, Cindy Polo and Javier Fernandez (on the state level) and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (on the federal level).
Most recently, a few members of Students Demand Miami joined South Florida Moms Demand volunteers on a trip to Tallahassee where we — quite literally — invaded the state Capitol Building. Almost every Florida senator and member of Congress had a gun sense volunteer in their office urging them to vote for HB 135 (Florida’s background check bill) and reject arming teachers.
Despite this, because of donations and ratings from the NRA playing a big role in getting reelected, politicians prefer to vote down the most basic of gun restrictions rather than lose this partnership.
My group and I have been advocating for policy changes and against these politicians for close to a year. This experience was incredible for me because I had never felt so much passion in one place. It’s events like this that keep my team and me motivated to continue our fight toward a safer future for all Americans.
If you feel motivated to mobilize and speak out against gun violence, please feel free to reach out to your local or federal representative and support your local chapter of Moms or Students Demand Action. To stay up to date on what the Miami chapter of Students Demand is working on, follow us on Instagram @studentsdemandmiami or Twitter @SDA_Miami!
MariaVictoria Chacón-Briceño is a junior at Doral Performing Arts & Entertainment Academy. She plans to continue her work as chapter lead of Students Demand Action Miami and inspire students to join the fight.