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Nikhita Nookala Florida students like me want to stop school shootings, not fight with politicians

Our movement started as a way to bring awareness to gun control, not start a standoff between political parties.
Image: Parkland In Mourning
Students and family members holds hands around a makeshift memorial in front of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were killed.Mark Wilson / Getty Images
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I looked forward to my senior year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School more than any other because of prom, senior parking and graduation. But my hopes for my best school year yet were shattered on Valentine’s Day when a shooter entered my school and shot 17 students and faculty to death; the girl who had read a poem just in front of me in English class at 12:45 pm was among those dead.

The next day, my friends and I held each other in Pine Trails Park and cried like we were never going to see each other again, because it had just been proven that it was a very real possibility that any of us could die in school.

Since that day, only a week ago, I have been watching proudly as my fellow classmates conducted interviews with journalists and spoke to legislators, acting mature beyond their years. My best friend, Emma Gonzalez, has become the face of a revolutionary call to action for gun control.

Within the next few years, all of the students of Stoneman Douglas will be eligible to vote, and we plan to make sure our voices continue to be heard.

#NeverAgain, the movement we started, is a group of students who want to make sure that a mass school shooting doesn’t happen again to any other group of kids who are trying to get an education, and we are demanding that our elected officials help. Within the next few years, all of the students of Stoneman Douglas will be eligible to vote, and we plan to make sure our voices continue to be heard.

But opposition is already creeping out of the woodwork to resist this change; conspiracy theories about us are even making an appearance in mainstream media, in part because the president’s son appeared to endorse them on Twitter, a former Georgia Congressman repeated them on CNN, people are spreading lies about us on Facebook and Alex Jones, a man notorious for his far-fetched ideas regarding just about everything, is saying our little city’s name for the worst reasons.

It is disheartening to see the #NeverAgain movement turning far too quickly into the one thing that would make progress impossible: a partisan debate. This movement started as a way to bring awareness to gun control — something that we need desperately in the United States — not a standoff between political parties. But, in the past week, it has been portrayed by conservative media as something that is working against the Republican party, or a group that is being used by Democrats to further a liberal agenda. And, while it's is true that the Republican Party is disproportionately endorsed and funded by the National Rifle Association, it is just not the case that we are pushing for one political party or another.

This movement started as a way to bring awareness to gun control — something that we need desperately in the United States — not a standoff between political parties.

We actually know that the reality is that we don’t get to vote out every senator and representative that won’t support our cause; the NRA and the Republicans they support will not be taken out of our political system writ large. But we need them to compromise, and we need it right now.

And to have compromise, we need to have a respectful discussion coming from all sides; everyone has to be willing to listen to other people's arguments, and figure out on what specific issues they are willing to support children’s lives over the gun rights that are so fiercely protected by some politicians.

Right now, we know that change will be about the baby steps and the small victories. We need something to happen, even if it is just banning bump stocks or expanding background checks. Accomplishing those two things would be more movement on the issue of gun control than we have in the last 10 years. It will take weeks — maybe even months — before major legislation is passed that even resembles our ultimate goal of banning assault weapons, which are weapons of war.

I refuse to sit silently as the partisan divide in this country tears apart the movement started by my classmates.

Being present at Wednesday night’s town hall meeting was something that opened my eyes to the reality of our political situation and our position. The emotions in Parkland, Florida are still running high, understandably; people are angry, and sad, and not ready to accept that the NRA will continue to have influence on the legislators of Congress because they are one of the most powerful interest groups in America.

But we understand that #NeverAgain needs to work with the system that currently exists in order to change anything, and that means we will listen to Marco Rubio and Dana Loesch, and decide what is and is not acceptable to us. There are certain things that all of us can agree on, like the expansion of information available in background check databases and more stringent restrictions on the mental health of firearm holders. Let’s get that done, and then continue to fight for more.

I refuse to sit silently as the partisan divide in this country tears apart the movement started by my classmates. Congressman Ted Deutch and Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio have promised us that they will be introducing legislation next week on Capitol Hill. Let those bills go through the Congressional process. Let’s see what they have to say. Let’s get something passed. The status quo cannot continue to be acceptable, in schools like mine or on Capitol Hill.

Nikhita Nookala is a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and a staff writer on the Eagle Eye newspaper. She plans to attend the University of Florida.

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