'Hollow words help no one':Students in Lake Oswego advocate for stricter gun control
Since Lakeridge High School senior Peren Tiemann began advocating to end gun violence over four years ago, there have been more than 2,000 mass shootings in America.
On Wednesday, May 25, Tiemann, along with about 200 students from Lake Oswego and Lakeridge high schools held walkouts protesting gun violence and calling state legislators to tighten firearms laws. The demonstrations were hosted by the schools' Students Demand Action clubs and prompted by the mass shooting that took place less than 24 hours earlier at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, which killed 19 primary school students and two teachers.
Tiemann, one of the organizers of the Lakeridge High School walkout, said collective events like walkouts are important because they lay out a blueprint for how students can rally for change.
"This tragedy is not the beginning of American gun violence, but it can be a starting point in your journey of fighting," Tiemann said to their classmates.
Earlier that morning, students from Lake Oswego High School met at the tennis courts during their support seminar. After hearing the news of the shooting, senior Ella Dreke and other LOHS Students Demand Action members learned students at Lakeridge High were holding a walkout and wanted to do something similar at their school.
"I feel like with these kinds of incidents, it's tragic, and then people resign themselves to the fact that it's tragic and it's inevitable and that makes me really frustrated. I just felt like (organizing the walkout) was a way to raise recognition within the student body of ways they could help and make it so that (gun violence) doesn't become our new normal" Dreke said.
"Sometimes legislators and lawmakers can be removed from gun violence in schools, and it's up to students to a certain extent to raise that awareness and advocacy, and really demand that our representatives do something to help those who they're meant to be representing."
After speeches by the organizers who urged their classmates to use their voices to speak against violence by firearms, students took turns writing on poster boards about why they participated in the walkout and why they support gun control.
Some of the responses included: "I want to feel safe at school," "Hollow words help no one," "People's lives are worth more than your guns" and "Children and teens alike fear for their lives in America; we must make a change."
The posters will later be displayed at the schools.
"It's a tragedy. Kids shouldn't be afraid to go to school," said freshmen Monica Holder. "I was devastated when I saw the news."
The shooting in Texas marked the 27th school shooting in 2022, according to data collected from Everytown, a gun-control advocacy nonprofit. And it is the second deadliest shooting to happen on a school campus since Sandy Hook in 2012. But the students also made clear that gun violence stretches far beyond the classroom walls.
More than 100 Americans are killed with guns every day and firearms are the leading cause of death for American children and teenagers. And Americans are about 25 times more likely to be killed by a gun than any other country, according to Everytown.
"America is the only country where this thing happens regularly. It doesn't happen regularly anywhere else and that clearly shows that there is a problem here," said LOHS senior Jeff Willardson. "It also shows that (gun violence) is fixable, since every other country … is able to make sure that deadly weapons don't kill children."
Students participating in the peaceful protest said that walkouts are not only important to bring awareness to the horrifying statistics of gun violence but to rally voices to call out some of Oregon's lax gun laws.
Organizers discussed how easy arms-related violence can occur in the state; they mentioned that guns manufactured in Oregon do not need to have child safety features and that there is no required waiting period when a buyer hands over money until the time a gun is placed in their hands.
"In the end, our children are the ones who suffer more and die. Guns do not make a safer society," said Cara Chen, a Lakeridge Students Demand Acton member.
The organizers of both events encouraged their classmates to vote for leaders who are advocating for stricter firearm control in the state. They also called on current state legislators to introduce "common sense" laws.
"We need to address gun violence wherever it affects us, not just within schools. We need to continue to advocate for common sense legislation at all levels of governance. And we need to protect all communities, not just the ones rich and white enough to have support from elected leaders," Tiemann said.
Hours after the mass shooting, Lake Oswego School Superintendent Jennifer Schiele sent out a letter to families illustrating not only the district's horror at the news but reaffirming the practices in place that keep students safe.
"Safety of students and all in our learning community is Lake Oswego School District's top priority. We continuously implement new policies, practices and physical deterrents for greater safety in our schools, as well as dedicated resources for supporting mental health and wellbeing," Schiele said in a statement to families.
Some of the current practices that prevent violence on campus are security check-ins before entering a school, having trained Safety Resource Officers on campuses, and adopting a nationally recognized response to threats called "Standard Response Protocol."
Another recent measure added to the school district roster of safety was only introduced a few months ago. In December 2021, the Lake Oswego School Board approved Policy KGBB, otherwise known as Firearms Prohibited. The policy mirrors Senate Bill 554, which was passed earlier that year in Oregon and allowed schools to prohibit firearms on campuses — including those covered by concealed carry licenses. The policy shift was advocated heavily by Tiemann and other Students Demand Action members.
In a little over a week, seniors from both high schools will walk across the graduation stage. Lakeridge students will turn their tassels on June 3, otherwise known as National Gun Violence Awareness Day. The organizers encouraged their classmates to wear orange under their gowns.
"(Gun violence) will not end with us graduating; it's going to continue," Tiemann said. "There will be more similar displays in the future, and I hope that people keep fighting for change."
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