Students and staff at the Pine Ridge Girls School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota honor those affected by gun violence with songs and prayers on March 14, 2018. Photo: Pine Ridge Girls School
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Native Sun News Today: Pine Ridge girls walk out for gun reform




#Never Again

Is it time for stricter gun laws?
By Kimberly Greager
Native Sun News Today Correspondent
nativesunnews.today

RAPID CITY — Last week, thousands of students participated in school walkouts from Rapid City to Pine Ridge to honor the 17 people who were killed on February 14 in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and to protest gun violence in a call for stricter gun laws.

The #ENOUGH National School Walkout was a student-led initiative to implore the government to pass stricter gun laws despite opposition from the National Rifle Association (NRA). On March 14, as students across the country protested, the accused Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz, a former Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS student, declined to enter a plea on the counts he is charged with. On his behalf, the judge entered a not guilty plea to all 17 counts of premeditated murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the first degree. Prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty for Cruz.

Community Relations Manager for the Rapid City Area School District, Katy Urban, said that around 2,000 students from all the middle and high schools in Rapid City participated in the walkouts. Urban said, “We wanted to honor our students' right to express their views and opinions in a safe and respectful way. Our goal was to be proactive and do our best to plan to ensure students’ safety. We simply provided a safe space."

"Students were going to walkout regardless of what we did. In our minds, we had two choices: do our best to ensure student safety by giving the students a safe place to assemble with law enforcement present ... or watch them leave campus and go out into an uncontrolled environment where their safety could be put at risk," Urban added. "We consulted with law enforcement, we sought legal counsel, and we decided that providing a safe space was our best option. It's important to be clear that today's walkouts are a result of a grassroots effort by students and are not district sponsored or endorsed, as RCAS does not support any viewpoint or advocacy group.”

After the walkouts, Native Sun News Today asked some students why they participated. Devon, a senior at Stevens High School, said, “Yesterday, I attended the walkout to be a part of a bigger picture. I wanted to let my voice be heard along with the hundreds of other young people locally, and thousands nationwide that are tired of gun violence in the U.S., and I wanted to pay my respect officially to the 17 children and teachers who lost their lives. I believe that it is not about the divide between Republicans or Democrats, Liberals or Conservatives alike. I believe it is about the safety of innocent children and adults in this country who deserve to go through their day knowing they won’t have to see their loved ones or close friends die brutally.”

A 9th grader at Douglas High School said he walked out because he doesn’t think “kids should go to school worrying about dying, when they’re already worried about hormones, girls and keeping up with their grades. No child has to die for someone’s greed, and if I have to choose when I’m older I would always choose life over a gun.”

Students and staff standing in solidarity with the students of the Florida Shootings. 17 minutes of prayer and song.

Posted by Pine Ridge Girls School on Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Pine Ridge Girls School on Facebook: #NeverAgain

Students and staff at the Pine Ridge Girls School also participated in the walkouts. Cindy Giago, head of the school, said, "We wanted our students to understand that they, just like the survivors in Florida, have a powerful voice! We support them and encourage them to speak up because we are listening. It’s important for us as Native people to ensure the growth and educational abilities of our students. All too often we say the children are our future, but we don't listen. These young people carry themselves in a way that, coupled with their intellectual knowledge, you have no choice but to hear their voices."

Some of the students at PRGS shared their reasons for walking out:

• "We have too many of our own people dying in the streets on our reservations because of guns, we need it to stop." -- Brianna, 7th grade
• "We need more programs to help our people, guns don't help fix the hurt our people go through." -- Aaliyah, 7th grade
• “We wanted to pray for the people, not just for the survivors in Florida, but for our people here on our reservation as well. Everyone needs prayers, no one needs guns." -- Ohiyesa, 8th grade

Not only did students and staff participate, but some community members came out to protest as well. NSNT spoke with a man named John who was outside one of the local high schools holding a sign protesting assault rifles.

When asked what prompted him to come out that day, John said that it was the first time he has ever protested anything, but he felt he had to. He said, “I’ve been an avid gun owner, hunter, target shooter, I was a licensed gun dealer my entire life, and I think that we just have to say something has to be done. We control fully automatic weapons, we did control semi-automatic weapons. Other countries have also had deaths from these weapons, they passed laws to control them and some of them have not had a single death from an assault weapon since…So, I don’t think that if we’re going to be honest that we can say that restricting gun ownership doesn’t work."

"Again, I’m a gun owner, I’m an avid gun owner, but we have to decide if we are going to allow these weapons that can kill so many at one time. Can we afford as a country to allow that? The U.S. is the only one left allowing it, so I’m not sure why we’re right in this country and the rest of the world is wrong," he continued. "For what it’s worth, everyone’s got the right to their own opinion, but even being an avid gun owner and user, shooter, target shooter, everything - I still say that I’m sorry, but I’m afraid that we’ve got these deaths of all these kids, people - not just kids, saying that we have to do something to get a handle on it. And yes, it’s mental issues, background checks, universal background checks, there’s not just one single step. We have to do them all.”

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While many people spoke out on March 14 against guns and/or assault rifles, others were just as outspoken in favor of them. As NSNT was talking to John, a man in a truck pulled up in the street and confronted John about his sign. The man in the truck appeared angry and confrontational, stating that it is his 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, and as he stated it is also his right to carry a concealed weapon due to his concealed carry permit, he lifted his shirt to reveal a gun in his waistband before driving off.

Opponents of stricter gun laws argue that the odds of being killed by a gun are low compared to many other things, and they’re right. According to the National Safety Council, the average American has greater odds of dying from heart disease, cancer, a stroke, diabetes, influenza, a car accident, or falling down than being killed by a gun. The odds of being killed in a mass shooting are lower still, with drowning, sharp objects, forces of nature, and even riding a bicycle posing greater threats.

While guns are not the overall leading cause of death in this country, the United States does have one of the highest rates of firearm deaths in the developed world, according to the World Health Organization. A study by The American Journal of Medicine reports that Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than people in other developed countries, and compared to 22 other high-income nations, the United States’ gun-related murder rate is 25 times higher.

The same study reports that the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 15 and 24 is murder, and that 15- to 24-year-olds in America are 49 times more likely to be the victim of a gun-related murder compared to that age group in other wealthy countries. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have already been more than 1,800 gun deaths in the United States this year.

Many people reason that the number of firearm deaths in America is a reflection of the number of guns we have. The U.S. has more privately owned guns than any other country, holding 48% of the estimated 650 million civilian-owned guns worldwide, according to a 2007 survey from Switzerland-based Small Arm Survey. Australian research site gunpolicy.org reported that as of 2015, there are more guns in the United States than people.


In Australia in 1996, just 12 days after a mass shooting at a school there, the National Firearms Agreement was passed, banning automatic and semi-automatic weapons for “personal defense” and offering a buyback program for guns that had become illegal. Since then, there have been no school shootings in Australia. Other countries have taken similar measures with similar results.

The Parkland tragedy is the most recent in a series of mass shootings that continue to fan the fires of gun violence and gun control debates in the United States. Some argue stricter gun laws won’t stop people from hurting or killing people with other weapons. Some argue that the gun laws are not the problem, the mental health care industry is the problem. Others argue that arming teachers with guns will stop mass shootings at schools. These debates will likely continue until gun violence and gun control are better understood. To understand anything, you must first learn all you can through study and research.

But in 1996, Congress passed the Dickey Amendment, named after its author Jay Dickey (R-Arkansas), in the government’s annual spending bill. The amendment mandates that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) may be used to advocate or promote gun control” and has essentially halted the C.D.C.’s research on gun violence and gun control for the last two decades.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) pushed for the amendment, stating that gun control research was politically motivated after public health studies were released in the early 1990’s reporting that the presence of a gun in a home increased the risk for homicide or suicide. Considered by many to be a ban on gun violence research and inhibiting the C.D.C. from treating gun violence like the public health issue it is, past efforts to get the amendment removed from the bill have failed.

The current administration has also taken steps to make it easier for people to purchase guns; in February of last year, Trump signed a bill repealing regulations that restricted people with severe mental illnesses from purchasing guns, and in his 2019 budget Trump is proposing deep cuts for the funding of background checks on gun purchasers.

Amidst the debates and legislation, the younger generation is standing up and speaking out, advocating for change. Perhaps the students in Parkland are following the words of Marjory Stoneman Douglas herself - “Be a nuisance where it counts. Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action. Be depressed, discouraged and disappointed at failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption and bad politics - but never give up.”

(Contact Kimberly Greager at kim@kimlathe.com)

Copyright permission Native Sun News Today