These students aren't joining the National Walkout to protest gun violence. Here's why.
When the clock strikes 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Will Walker will stay put.
All 25 of his Algebra II classmates could leave him behind to join the nationwide school walkout in support of gun control, and he still wouldn’t budge.
“Even if the teacher leaves, I will continue to work on my school work,” said Walker, a 16-year-old sophomore at Cadillac High School in Cadillac, Michigan. “I’ll just carry on like it’s a normal day ― or at least try my best to.”
Thousands of students across the country are expected to empty out of their classrooms Wednesday to participate in the National School Walkout, a protest organized by Youth EMPOWER, the Women’s March branch of young activists. The group is asking students and faculty to walk off campus at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes ― each minute representing one of the 17 people killed one month ago during the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Participants are protesting Congress’ inaction on gun legislation reform in the wake of school shootings, according to the event’s Facebook page. So far, more than 35,000 people have pledged on Facebook to join the walkout as schools in every state make preparations for the anticipated mass exodus of students.
But some students ― including Walker ― aren’t on board.
“I don’t think we’re going to solve anything by walking out of the classroom,” Walker said. “I am in full support of stopping school shootings, but that’s not what the people are going out there [for] … They’re trying to stop people from being able to have guns.”
Although Walker, a member of his school’s band, drama club and cross country running team, feels “very safe” at school, he acknowledges that something can and should be done to end school shootings, of which there have been at least seven since the beginning of the year. But his proposed solution aligns more with the thinking of Republican lawmakers, including President Donald Trump, than his left-leaning classmates.
He believes arming more faculty members, as proposed by the Trump administration and National Rifle Association in the wake of Parkland, would be the most effective way to prevent school shootings.
“The best way to stop school shootings would be to give more people guns,” said Walker, whose experience firing guns includes target shooting and hunting. “You don’t have to require that a teacher carry a gun, but I think just the idea that one of the teachers in the building might have one on them might deter someone from shooting up a school.”
Cadillac, located roughly 200 miles northwest of Detroit in Wexford County, is a small midwestern town of about 10,500 people. In the 2016 election, more than 65 percent of Wexford County went red for Trump.
But Cadillac feels split politically, according to Walker, who said he’s felt “a lot of pressure” from more left-leaning classmates to walk out on Wednesday. Although the Parkland survivors appear unified in their support for one another despite political differences, Walker feels the Feb. 14 massacre has only further divided his own classmates.
“People I thought I could have a civil discussion with have gotten really upset with me,” he said. “I think a lot of people don’t know what they’re stepping out for.”
Aliya Arenas, an 18-year-old senior at Jackson High School in Jackson, Missouri, said she too plans to skip the walkout because she wasn’t convinced many of her peers were rallying behind a unified cause.
“I asked a few friends, who would be participating, what exactly it was about,” Arenas told HuffPost in an email, adding that her friends’ responses ranged from “banning guns” to “protesting school shootings” to “LGBTQ rights.”
“Some were doing it just to get out of class,” she said. “While I do believe that something needs to change with the gun laws, and I fully support the LGTBQ community, I do not feel that getting up and leaving class is the best way to go about it.”
Republicans reign supreme in Jackson, where hunting is very popular, so lobbying for stricter gun laws may not be the most effective way to prevent school shootings, Arenas said.
“School shootings are still a very real and scary possibility,” she said. “However, there is no definite way to stop school shootings. Increasing school security is the most that can be done on a large scale. … While gun reform is important, it’s not the only issue.”
Ideological differences and unfocused messaging aren’t the only factors deterring some students from walking out. Jenna Coleman, 16, planned to join the walkout Wednesday until her school district in Pennsylvania announced that participating students could face a variety of disciplinary actions, including detention or suspension.
School officials “constantly tell students that they are young adults that need to stand up for what we believe in, and now that we are, they threaten us,” said Coleman, who requested HuffPost withhold the name of her high school for privacy reasons.
Coleman worried she would be kicked out of the upcoming school musical if she decided to walk out. Instead, she and her fellow classmates plan to refuse to participate in their classes starting at 10 a.m. to protest the school’s apparent attempt to silence them.
“The school says that on the 14th that we will be able to talk about gun safety in class,” Coleman said. “Students are done talking. If nobody will do anything to save lives, then we will keep going until adults stand up to help us.”
Several students, some of whom wished to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, told HuffPost they wanted to participate, but their parents either told them they couldn’t or planned to pull them out of school that day altogether. Other students are unable to participate because their schools districts, including many in Tennessee, are on spring break this week. Other students contacted HuffPost expressing concern for their safety during the walkout.
Zack Boyd, an 18-year-old senior at Rigby High School in Rigby, Idaho, said he supports the walkout’s message of gun reform legislation, but doesn’t feel there’s a large enough contingent of students planning to walk out at his school.
“I’ve heard one or two kids talking about it,” said Boyd, a self-described Democrat and member of his high school’s football and debate teams. “The problem around here is you run into lots of kids just listening to what their parents think … Older generations think it’s kind of a joke around here, which is sad.”
“I live in a really close-knit community, so I don’t feel like [a school shooting] would ever happen here, and I feel like most people would agree,” he added. “But, of course, that’s just never the case because that’s how everybody feels.”
Although Boyd said he would participate if the walkout were a “bigger deal” at his school, he thinks contacting elected representatives, rather than leaving class, could be a more productive use of his classmates’ time.
“Clearly gun violence is a problem in the United States ― there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “I just think with those 17 minutes, you know, you could be calling [state lawmakers] to create change, especially in a state like Idaho, which … is super conservative. We’re all ‘yee-haw’ for guns.”
Boyd believes there’s a misconception that people in favor of stricter gun laws simply want to strip every American of their access to firearms.
“I think what people around here and other conservative areas don’t understand is that we don’t want to take away guns ― just make it a little harder to obtain them,” he said. “It’s for the betterment of society, and I don’t think they understand that.”
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.