Students from around the Bay Area are in Sacramento today to lobby for stricter gun laws. They began planning a month ago when junior Ruby Baden-Lasar of Head-Royce School in Oakland and three other high schoolers started a group called Bay Area Student Activists after the Feb. 14 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead. This lobbying trip is the group’s first action, and there’s a steep learning curve.
“We have like so many spreadsheets and lists, and it would boggle your mind,” Baden-Lasar says. “I can't keep track of all of them.”
The organizers say they were expecting at least 200 students to go to the Capitol on buses paid for in part by a Go Fund Me campaign.
Fellow organizer Kira Galbraith, a sophomore at Berkeley High School, says part of what motivated her after Parkland was a threat at her own school.
“I was really scared at school, and so I had all these emotions and I didn't know how to deal with them. So planning this was my way of kind of dealing with my emotions but also coping with them,” Galbraith says.
For organizer Zoe Benjamin, a junior at French American International High School in San Francisco, this face-to-face show of force at the Capitol is a way to compensate for the way their age limits their political might.
“There are so many people who are able to vote and don't, and we're not able to,” she says. “So we felt like it was really important to find another way to find that voice.”
The student leaders organized their peers into lobbying groups for meetings all over the Capitol, to meet with lawmakers, share personal stories and advocate for a series of gun control bills pending in the Legislature. Among them is Assembly Bill 3, which would raise the age for buying rifles and shotguns from 18 to 21. It was introduced by Bay Area Assemblyman Rob Bonta.
Bonta says these in-person meetings really do make a difference.
“As legislators, when you can sit in a room one-on-one and hear someone's story, there's almost nothing more powerful to help inform your actions, your legislation,” Bonta says. “And when it’s this message, this particular message, which is, ‘Adults you're failing us; we're dying. Do something to make us safer,’ it doesn't get more powerful than that.”
Baden-Lasar and the others aren’t expecting change overnight. They see this trip as a learning experience -- a chance to build some political muscle. They say the real goal is to create a network of students who will advocate for themselves long into the future.