Bay Area Student Activists Want to Jump-Start Push for Stronger Gun Laws

Encinal High School students march during the National School Walkout on April 20, 2018.  (Vanessa Rancaño/KQED)

Bay Area student activists who began organizing last year — after the Valentine's Day mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead — are preparing to seize on the series of mass shootings in Gilroy, El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio to jump-start their push for stronger gun laws.

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Some are starting to plan for a rally on the steps of San Francisco City Hall, and others are strategizing about how to expand the reach of the regionwide youth activist network they’ve built.

Talking from the East Coast where she’s visiting colleges, Berkeley High School senior Kira Galbraith said that when she gets back she plans to start building connections with student groups around the country that represent gun owners.

“So that we aren't making it about who owns guns and who doesn't,” Galbraith said, “but how can we just make sure that the people who are having access to guns are responsible gun owners.”

Galbraith helped found the group Bay Area Student Activists, or BAStA, last year to bring student gun control activists together.

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Jake Cohen (left, with megaphone) leads a rally outside San Francisco City Hall after a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, last May. (Vanessa Rancaño/KQED)

The organization put on a town hall with local candidates ahead of the midterm elections, and led lobbying efforts in Sacramento that helped get tougher gun measures passed in California, like a bill that raised the age for buying all guns to 21.

Students lie on the ground during Encinal High School’s “die-in” demonstration outside a city administration luncheon in Alameda, during the National School Walkout on April 20, 2018. (Vanessa Rancaño/KQED)
A student holds Oscar Grant’s photo over his face during Encinal High School’s “die-in” demonstration outside a city administration luncheon in Alameda during the National School Walkout on April 20, 2018. (Vanessa Rancaño/KQED)

If they’re going to build on that work, Galbraith and others say, first they’ve got to combat the fatigue they say has slowed down their movement.

“I personally have grown up with this idea that if you work really hard, something positive will come out of it,” Galbraith said. “But nothing seems to change. It seems to just get worse.”

“After Parkland there was that big motivation, and then there were like four or five other shootings and that motivation just died down,” said Tamalpais High School junior Jake Cohen, who helped organize student press conferences, rallies and phone banks after the Florida shooting.

Encinal High School students march during the National School Walkout on April 20, 2018. (Vanessa Rancaño/KQED)

“We’re not seeing the same energy when less people are killed and that’s a very scary thing,” Cohen said. “The death toll has to reach a certain number before a certain number of people will care about changing things.”

Cohen, 16, said it will again be up to young people like him to translate recent attention into activism.

“We have to jump on board as soon as we see momentum building,” he said.

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