NEWARK — David Hogg, a mass-shooting survivor, anti-gun violence activist and a founder of the “March for Our Lives” campaign, spoke on increased school security, prevention methods and hatred at the University of Delaware on Wednesday.
The webinar — part of the Center for Political Communication’s National Agenda speaker series — was timely given news that the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter, Nikolas Cruz, pleaded guilty to all charges against him that morning.
Mr. Hogg was a senior at the Parkland, Florida, school during the February 2018 shooting, which resulted in the deaths of 14 students and three staff members.
“I’m happy that things are moving forward, and that there is some form of justice,” Mr. Hogg said Wednesday. “But ultimately, I don’t think real closure is ever fully possible because there’s nothing that can ever bring my classmates back, and there’s nothing for their siblings and their moms and dads, all the people that have been affected by this, that will ever make it better for them.”
Mr. Hogg’s talk came a day after a lockdown at Dover High School, when a 16-year-old student was found in possession of a handgun on campus, according to Dover police. Though police said there is no evidence the Dover student intended to use the weapon, Mr. Hogg said that, in many cases, there isn’t anything education officials can do to prevent a school shooting.
“Clearly, there is going to be increased security within our schools, but we’re putting a bandage on — for lack of a better term — a bullet hole,” he said. “I think it would be a lot better if we didn’t implement security measures that we know often make students uncomfortable. Black and Brown students specifically are discriminated against and often face brutality, … so that, of course, is not only distracting but can be traumatizing for the students.”
Mr. Hogg also suggested that the best way to prevent school shootings is to stop them before the gun is even brought to campus by funding school psychologists and counselors instead of implementing security measures that don’t really make students feel safer.
He said, however, that though Mr. Cruz has mental health issues, that wasn’t the reason he chose to attack Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
“I’m not about to talk about framing every White domestic terrorist as a mentally ill individual, when the reality is the reason why what happened at my high school happened is because a racist, anti-Semitic 19-year-old was able to legally obtain an AR-15,” Mr. Hogg said.
He said that people who are mentally ill are actually more likely to have violence inflicted upon them, rather than to be violent themselves, referencing his own struggles with mental health, especially after surviving the deadliest school shooting in history. He started practicing meditation and mindfulness, especially on days when his PTSD is the strongest and flashbacks keep him from sleeping.
Mr. Hogg said he and other Parkland survivors have faced psychological warfare from conspiracy theorists convinced the incident never happened, who imply that he and others were paid actors.
Before she was elected to Congress, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., called Mr. Hogg a “little Hitler” in a Twitter post. And in a video from 2019, she calls him a “coward” and claims he “is paid to do this.” She also asserted that she has a concealed carry permit and carries a gun with her for protection, comments the advocate said were implied threats.
“I need to be looking out for the safety of my staff and myself in that situation,” he said. “I’m not going to engage. I’m going to walk away and not have any form of a conversation with someone who is attempting to do harm, basically intimidating us while being armed or implying that they were.”
He added that it is every American’s First Amendment right to say what they want, no matter the disagreement, but the line should be drawn at drumming up hatred that coincides with violent threats.
“I think what it comes down to is just seeing other people as human beings and listening to learn instead of listening just to respond and understanding that there are going to be times when I may not agree, and that’s fine, so be it,” he said. “Because honestly, I don’t care if they disagree with me, I’m going to keep going out and advocating for what I advocate for, but it is possible to have that conversation.”
Though he has become a leader of his generation, Mr. Hogg admits he and many others are still students, learning how to handle the world’s challenges. He joined other survivors of the Parkland shooting to organize the largest single-day protest against gun violence in history the month following the incident. But overall, he said Generation Z has grown up in a world of fear.
“We haven’t known a pre-9/11 world. We haven’t known a world where school shootings aren’t part of the news on a weekly basis. We have grown up in a world where the reality of climate change is going to displace billions of people,” he said. “We have never grown up in a world where we genuinely thought that our future was going to be better.”
Despite that, Mr. Hogg said he finds hope in history, such as in the Great Depression generation, which grew up to defeat the Nazis. In addition, he said that most young people are realizing they don’t have a choice to do anything but combat their fear with hope and action.
Following the Parkland shooting, voter turnout among youth skyrocketed in Florida. About 37% of the state’s 18- to 29-year-olds voted in November 2018, compared to 22% who voted in 2014, according to state voter data. A record 46 National Rifle Association-backed candidates nationwide lost their elections that year, according to the March for Our Lives website.
And voting numbers continued to grow in 2020: Nationally, 57% of voters ages 18-34 voted in that year’s election, compared to 49% in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“It shouldn’t be on survivors of gun violence to go out and talk to armed protesters who are wielding the same weapon that killed 17 of my classmates and teachers. It shouldn’t be on us to have that conversation,” he said. “We can work this thing out in the courts, and we can work this thing out in our state legislatures because, ultimately, we have this thing called voting that doesn’t require us to talk to the other side.”