Advocates eye reform in the wake of continued school violence

Traverse City West sophomore Lily Guiney, 15, is among the organizers of a student protest on March 14, in which students will walkout at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes — one minute for each victim killed in the recent Parkland, Fla., school shooting. “Something has to give,” said Guiney, “and it has to stop.”

TRAVERSE CITY — Alden Wack heads to Traverse City West Senior High every school day sporting his favorite red hat with “Keep America Great” stitched in that familiar white font on the front.

Lily Guiney walks those same hallways as the liberal voice of the Occidentalist — West’s student-run newspaper — as well as a member of Model UN and an advocate for women’s rights.

They both live in a post-Columbine, post-Sandy Hook, post-Parkland world where the fear of school shootings is real for them and their fellow students.

Twenty-one school shootings have occurred at K-12 schools in Michigan since 2010, according to data from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security. Nationwide, there have been 423 shooting incidents at K-12 schools in that same span, with 110 in 2018 and 66 so far in 2019.

Wack and Guiney agree there’s a problem. Both seniors admit they think about the possibility of a shooting happening at West. But they differ on what should be — and can be — done to stop it from happening.

“God no,” Guiney said when asked if teachers at West should be armed. “When you have an issue, you don’t try to add more of the issue in an effort to curtail it. The good guy with a gun is not a solution to the bad guy with a gun. Why wouldn’t you just remove the gun?”

Wack is an advocate of the Second Amendment and sees arming teachers as another level of security against the possibility of such a tragedy happening in Traverse City. The 18-year-old said the views against arming teachers come from a lack of education on proper gun safety.

“There should be a select few teachers that have them. I think one on each wing would be good,” Wack said. “I don’t think that all teachers need them, but I believe we should be arming some of them.”

The majority of teachers in Michigan don’t agree with Wack, however.

A 2018 poll of more than 1,000 Michigan educators conducted by the Michigan Education Association showed 71 percent oppose efforts to arm teachers. Sixty-three percent said they oppose arming teachers even if they are required to receive firearms training and the guns are locked and can only be accessed by a teacher’s fingerprint.

Michigan is one of 10 states to allow conceal-carry in schools and one of 25 that allows school districts to give permission to individuals to carry guns on school grounds.

Wack believes gun ownership is both a constitutional and God-given right, but he said he’ll do his best to stop an active shooter even if teachers aren’t allowed to be armed.

“Usually what goes through my head is, ‘If there’s an active shooter in the building, what can I do to help?’ I’d rather help people than run away,” he said. “I understand it’s a scary thought, and not many people are like that, but instead of running and hiding, I want to help others.”

Guiney, as a sophomore, organized the March For Our Lives student walkout at West just a month after the shooting in Parkland, Florida. She said it was a “hugely profound” moment for her and others like her to see more than 400 people take part in the event.

“Our section of Gen Z didn’t have 9/11 as this looming thing, but we have gun violence and school shootings,” she said. “That is the issue that is going to profoundly shape our generation and the way our generation votes and deals with civic responsibility. I don’t think any issue is going to be as definitive of my age group as gun violence is.”

Both see the upcoming Democratic primary and 2020 presidential election as momentous as well. Wack is worried about the Democratic candidates who have voiced their support for stricter gun laws and banning assault weapons. Guiney said supplanting Donald Trump in the White House will lead to progress on gun control.

Both can’t wait to vote.

“I love me some high-stakes federal politics,” Guiney said.

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