Worried about shootings at schools, local student activists take action

When Katelyn Monostori walks down the halls of First Colonial High School there is a persistent thought in the back of her mind: Am I going to get shot today?

Monostori, a rising senior at First Colonial High School in Virginia Beach and part of the Legal Studies Academy, is heavily involved in many political events and is doing what she can to make sure her voice to be heard.

“I’ve always been active in politics, but the shooting at Parkland really sparked a lot of the student movements this year.”

On Feb. 14, a former student opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., killing 17 and injuring 17 more.

Monostori is one of a number of students across the nation who is speaking out about gun control. She’s focusing her efforts locally on unseating her representative, Scott Taylor. She said she doesn’t feel that Taylor is doing enough to support students' decisions to take action for gun control. According to Open Secrets, Taylor has accepted $4,500 from the National Rifle Association since his election in 2016.

“My local politician has refused to hold town halls, attend our events or take us seriously," Monostori said. "But his opponent, and many other politicians, do take our concerns seriously and we hope that those ones will be elected because despite our age we are still their constituents.

“He may not believe us, but he certainly can’t ignore us.”

Elaine Luria is the Democratic nominee for Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District.

“We’ve gotten a lot of help from Elaine Luria. Her involvement in our group and attendance at our events really gives us hope that with enough work on our part, we can elect representatives who listen and care,” Monostori said.

Although Monostori is not old enough to vote in the November election, she is working to help elect Luria.

“We’ve realized the importance of elections, even though a lot of us can’t vote in them, so we’ve gotten involved in volunteering with political campaigns or becoming interns,” Monostori said.

Not all students feel the same way. Colin Fogarty also is a First Colonial High School student in the Legal Studies Academy. Fogarty said he considers himself a conservative politically and does not support gun control. He said only two things that can prevent a mass shooting: better law enforcement and better mental health awareness.

Fogarty said there are many variations of gun control and the students’ protests are too broad. He said they need to specify what they’re fighting for.

“It’s great to see students want change, but asking for gun control is like asking 'Can I have dinner?' What kind of dinner do you want?” he said.

Fogarty said gun control isn’t going to stop gun violence so there’s no point in trying.

Pooja Mahesh, a rising junior at Norfolk Academy, said the US should try some form of gun control to reduce the mass violence. Similar to Monostori, Mahesh supports stricter gun laws. Mahesh and her friends attended the March for Our Lives event on March 24 in Washington, D.C., and was inspired by the people at the march.

“We started a branch of the nonprofit Drum Major Institute, which is a civil and political rights organization created as a legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," Mahesh said. "We mainly hope to get other teens to care about the world around us because we understand that it’s difficult to speak up in the politically polarized environment America has become after the 2016 elections.”

A large part of Mahesh’s work in the nonprofit focuses on voter registration. Similar to Monostori, Mahesh said she also believes that in order to evoke change the battle begins at the ballots.

“Nothing will change unless more people take the future of their country in their own hands,” Mahesh said.

Mahesh and Monostori said they won’t stop until their voices are heard. Stepping into their representatives' offices, starting political organizations and taking part in protests are all ways in which they are trying to be heard.

“We realized that it’s no longer an option to brush aside the problems in our world because it's our future and we have the ability to make it better by advocating and creating awareness about crucial topics such as gun reform,” Mahesh said.