The following op-ed comes from Lily Levin, a student leader and ally of the NC Justice Center’s Education and Law Project, who shares her thoughts about the actions that all caring and thinking people must take to combat the gun violence epidemic.
On October 19th, I had the privilege of attending the Student Gun Violence Summit in Washington, DC. I arrived at the event with an understanding of the effect of gun violence in a variety of different communities. I left the summit understanding that gun violence is inextricably tied to violence against minorities, violence against women, violence against children—in essence, it is a symptom of the cycle of institutionalized violence perpetuated in America.
We all know that gun deaths in America are countless. Most of us know someone affected by gun violence. A large number of us have been affected by gun violence ourselves.
Although I am only an ally, I feel that it is my duty to advocate alongside survivors. “Survivor” is a broad term; survivor of what, exactly?
Survivor of hate. Survivor of cruelty. Survivor of trauma.
Gun violence is not an isolated evil. It is a product of the encouragement of white nationalism by those in office, including the President.
It is a product of the disenfranchisement of low income communities of color. It is the product of a culture of misogyny and the normalization of rape. It is the product of police brutality. It is the product of access to guns.
The Student Gun Violence Summit taught me that in order to prevent gun deaths, we must approach the reform argument from a place of intersectionality, meaning, striving toward an understanding of how so many issues are tied to public policy—mental health (two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides), school safety, and racial bias training and mitigation. America’s gun problem is so incredibly expansive that we cannot simply enact one legislative action and expect a significant reduction in gun deaths: we must approach this debate from a systemic level.
One policy is a step in the right direction, but reform requires sweeping and massive change. Those of us who are paying attention to the increasing rate of gun deaths in America know this all too well.
Teachers, students, and survivors of school shootings and inner-city gun crime and family-member suicide joined me at the summit. At times, listening to the stories of others, I felt hopeless, but when my peers shared their passions and dedication to this issue, I knew that I must be hopeful. When we ratified the Student Safety Bill of Rights, I knew that, one day, we will win. I urge you all to access the Student Safety Bill of Rights and advocate for it in front of your local school boards and with your state legislators. Visit the Action Network Website to learn more: https://actionnetwork.org/.
The North Carolina General Assembly will be back in session on November 27—presumably to review and implement the voter ID amendment, among other issues—but there is no mention of gun reform and education, which are urgent needs in light of the Butler High School shooting and mass amounts of gun violence every day.
My friend Raina and I are beginning to plan a March for Our Lives Wake County chapter, which is inclusive, diverse, and honors different voices, but we cannot fight this fight alone.
Stand with us. Stand against gun violence, and most importantly, stand for humanity.
Lily Levin is a high school student, social justice advocate, change-maker, and ally. She co-founded Triangle People Power, a youth activist group pursuing multi-issue advocacy based on the ACLU’s grassroots agenda, and currently serves as its executive leader. She is also a passionate proponent of intersectional gun reform, having coordinated the Why Wake Walks rally on the anniversary of Columbine and working with Mom’s Demand Action, Bull City United, and March for Our Lives.