Louise Olivier

People who live through dramatic, society-changing events can usually tell you where they were when they got the news. Events like 9/11, the Challenger explosion, and JFK’s assassination come to mind.

But I don’t remember where I was when I first heard about last month’s Parkland shooting and the 17 students and faculty who died. I do remember my first thought: “not again.”

I am 16 years old, a high school junior, a member of a generation that has become habituated to seeing mass shootings on the news: Columbine, Las Vegas, Sandy Hook. We have not known a time before lockdown drills and threats of violence.

Students should not have to live with the threat of violence hanging over our heads every time we go to school. We should be able to receive an education without having to take time to practice what would happen if a shooter entered the classroom. Nobody should lose their lives to this blind and senseless violence. My teachers should not have to consider whether they would sacrifice themselves for their students, or whether they could defend us against a gunman.

These are statements that should raise no controversy — students should be able to go to school and learn in safety. But right now we aren’t safe, so how do we get there?

Just because I am young, does not mean that I am powerless.

The answer is reform — reform of gun laws and reform of mental health care. America has more shootings than any other developed country, almost four times as many as the second-most afflicted. We also have more guns per capita than any other country, a staggering 88.8 guns per hundred citizens, according to a study by the United Nations. And research shows that our high rates of gun ownership are incontrovertibly linked to the shootings.

In other countries where mass shootings have taken place, gun control has worked. After a 1996 shooting that left 35 dead, the government of Australia imposed gun restrictions — establishing a national registry, a 28-day waiting period, and new licensing requirements. The country has had no mass shootings since.

Saturday’s march moves from Marigny to City Hall.

The Second Amendment gives Americans the right to bear arms, yes, and to maintain a well-regulated militia — emphasis on “well-regulated.” We can drastically reduce the number of mass shootings in this country without infringing on that right. That is what common sense gun control is — universal background checks, raising the assault-weapon buying age to 21, and not letting the National Rifle Association control the conversation about guns.

These reasonable regulations should be no more offensive to gun owners than the loss of human lives that they could prevent.

This is what students like me are pushing for. The national walkouts last week and the March for Our Lives this Saturday are making a bold statement. We are not willing to risk our lives waiting for someone else to make a change, to step up and protect us. Our voices will be heard, and, by taking concentrated and specifics steps, we will make people listen.

Although most of the students involved are under 18, unable to vote in elections, we can still reach out to our elected officials, advocate for specific causes, and urge voters who are more passive on the gun-control issue to make their votes count. Politicians have a duty to represent their constituents, and 70 percent of Americans support stricter gun control. We will not let them ignore this fact, however much the gun lobby wants them to.

I am an organizer for the March for Our Lives in New Orleans. At noon on Saturday we will march from Washington Square Park in the Marigny to Duncan Plaza in front of City Hall. At 2 p.m. we’ll hold a rally to demand gun control in our country and in our state. We hope that others will join us.

Because I am too young to vote, I often feel helpless in situations of political conflict. Not anymore. Just because I am young, does not mean that I am powerless. Along with my peers, I will make my voice heard. We are determined to change this country for the better.

Louise Olivier is a native New Orleanian and a student at Benjamin Franklin High School and New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.

Views expressed in the Opinion section are not necessarily those of The Lens or its staff. To propose an idea for a column, contact Lens founder Karen Gadbois.