Florida shooting survivor explains how his generation can force a change on guns

David Hogg, a 17-year-old senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, huddled with classmates as gunman Nikolas Cruz tore through his high school Wednesday on a rampage that left 17 dead.

Hogg, a student journalist, took out his cellphone and began recording his classmates — a gun control plea in sickening real time.

The evening after the shooting, Hogg says, he biked up to the school, where the media was still camped out. This time, he put himself in front of the camera, making his first — but not final — plea for an end to mass shootings. He made another on CNN on Thursday morning, calling on lawmakers to “get something done.”

Hogg’s classmates were doing the same. Teenage survivors such as Hogg, Emma Gonzalez, Cameron Kasky, and more became the frustrated and furious faces of America’s failure to curtail gun violence.

Their anger, and their activism, is interrupting the typical mass shooting narrative. They are refusing to let the news cycle or the country move on, to forget about their 17 murdered classmates. They’re planning a march next month in Washington, DC; they’re bussing down to Tallahassee to rally this week; they’ll also speak at a town hall with politicians, including Florida’s two senators.

They aren’t stopping there. Hogg says he doesn’t want to return to school until gun control legislation is passed. “I hope every one of these bills is named after the people that died and the people that survived,” he told Vox. “That’s how we need to remember these people.”

He suggested that someday, when the next generation of teenagers read their AP US history textbooks and memorize those bills, they’ll remember: “These are the people who died, and shouldn’t have.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jen Kirby

The activism of you and your fellow students has created the sense that, in the wake of this mass shooting, there’s a chance things might be different. Why do you think that is?

David Hogg

Because of timing. At 6 pm after the shooting, I took my camera, got on my bike. I rode in basically twilight. And I ride my bike three miles down winding sidewalks and find my way to the school, as I’ve done in previous years. All the while, I was making sure my camera bag didn’t rip open, because if you zip it a certain way, the camera falls out, and it would be destroyed.

I start shooting B-roll, and I see Fox News over there. I knew I wanted to talk on the news and make sure there was advocacy, especially with so many people from the [National Rifle Association] and different gun-toting Americans who watch Fox News. I went on the day of [the shooting], and said, “There cannot be another mass shooting,” and I think that’s partially why. But also other people started saying that at the same time.

I’m looking at the school right now. You can see bullet holes in the windows. It’s insane, and the fact that there’s more bullet holes in those windows than bills that have been proposed and passed to save these kids’ lives is disgusting.

Jen Kirby

Seeing something like that, it frames your advocacy very clearly. I’m curious if you and your classmates were always passionate about this issue before last week.

David Hogg

Oh, absolutely. We’ve always been passionate about this. We’ve always been politically — we haven’t gotten out and campaigned or anything — but we’ve always been like, “Stop the bullshit; we hate living in America because being in school, our lives are put at risk every day, and that’s unacceptable. But what are we going to do about it?” We felt like the rest of the country — there’s nothing to do.

When this happened, we knew that this was our chance to say, “No more kids are going to die.” We’re going to hold these sick politicians who prefer the murder of children to [losing] their reelection. We’re going to hold them accountable. And that’s what we’re doing.

Jen Kirby

You also recorded your classmates while hiding out from the shooter. What motivated you to do that?

David Hogg

I thought if maybe [politicians] heard the voices of some that had died, maybe that would be enough to take action. But to be honest, it probably wouldn’t. It probably wouldn’t.

Jen Kirby

Do you see the Parkland shooting as a real turning point in the gun control movement?

David Hogg

I certainly hope so. I really hope so. The fact that more people are still talking about it and still seeing my face, and the fact that these people are continuing to be remembered is a testament to what we’re doing is kind of working.

Jen Kirby

Besides the march next month, do you have other plans to advocate for legislation?

David Hogg

I’m not a politician. I’m a 17-year-old. What the fuck do I know? All I know is that what they’re doing is fucking wrong, and I know that lobbyists are sick fuckers.

But these sick people need to be held accountable. These people have seen over and over again what’s been happening in the news, which is mass shootings where people get shot, we have a debate, and we get more divided as Democrats and Republicans and not as Americans that we are. It’s polarizing America, making it weaker, and taking children’s lives.

Jen Kirby

Well, I’ve heard you and your classmates discuss these issues over the past week, and you have talked about proposals — not all of them new — to tackle this issue.

David Hogg

Universal background checks have wide support. It’s just House Speaker Paul Ryan and [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell will not allow any of these bills to come to the floor. Children are dying as a result. The blood from all these 17 people who are dead now, and all the thousands of others who are dead as a result of gun violence — it’s on their hands and [on] the NRA.

Jen Kirby

How do you see yourself trying to promote legislation that will, as you say, save lives?

David Hogg

We need to hire a lawyer. We need to hire a fiduciary. We need to hire a campaign person to help organize; we’ve been organizing ourselves pretty much entirely, even up until now. We still are, and the plan is to continue doing it that way.

We don’t have time or resources to hire these people. But we have the energy to get this shit done. Our politicians don’t. Well, they do; they just don’t give a fuck.

Jen Kirby

And you’re teenagers. You’ll have to go back to school, and —

David Hogg

I don’t plan on going back. I don’t plan on going back to school until gun control legislation is passed, to the point where every American feels safe. I personally think every American should do the same thing. We should have a national school sit-out where nobody goes [back to school] until these laws are passed, because everybody is at risk. That’s not part of the movement yet, but that’s what I think.

Jen Kirby

That’s an interesting idea. Have you heard from other students and teens across the country, including other survivors of school shootings, who plan to join you in the marches and some of the other activism?

David Hogg

Kids DM me on Instagram being like, “Hey, what can I do?” Form a march, form a protest. A kid is making videos near Columbine with survivors of that shooting, I believe.

That’s just another example of, like, how this has to be us, our generation as teenagers. We can’t allow this to happen. What about our kids? What about the future of America? These politicians don’t give a shit about that.

Jen Kirby

What about the president’s idea for a listening session with students? Has the White House reached out?

David Hogg

We’re not going to that. He [Trump] can come to our thing. This is our issue. I would say as of 2 pm Monday, they have not reached out to us either officially or unofficially at all.

Jen Kirby

This anger among you and your classmates feels palpable. But I imagine it also mixes up with grief. How does it feel to balance both?

David Hogg

I really can’t. The only source of any grieving that I can do at this point is just keep fighting. I have to. There’s no way I can stop because I don’t want anybody else to die from this. If I don’t take action — because our stupid politicians won’t — more are going to die.

If you want some of those names that I’m talking about: Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and so many others that refuse to take action. The fact that Donald Trump called out the Democratic Party for not taking action when they were in full control is disgusting and hypocritical.

The Republicans are in control of the House, Senate, and executive branch — what legislation has been passed about mental health, if that’s what they’re pushing? None.

They’ve made false promises, which has gotten more blood spattered on our high schools, elementary schools, and middle schools.

Jen Kirby

What about some other talking points on the right, such as that teachers should be armed?

David Hogg

Personally, I enjoy and respect everybody else’s opinion. I have to, and so does everybody else, if we want to get this done, But I don’t feel comfortable being in a room with a teacher with a gun; I don’t feel comfortable really being around a gun unless it’s a law enforcement officer that has it. Would I support possibly having more school resource officers? Yes. But I would also just not feel comfortable bringing more guns into a place that’s supposed to be about learning. I don’t think the solution to the problem is more violence.

Jen Kirby

At the same time, this gun control debate seems so entrenched. Has anyone reached out to you to let you know that you’ve changed their mind, or even budged them at all on their stance?

David Hogg

I’m not here to change anyone’s mind. I’m here to get us working because we have to. I’m getting people to hear the other side of the debate, not change their minds, just understand we need mental health care reform and we need some form of gun reform.

An absolute ban on assault rifles would be wonderful, but we need mental health care and everything like that. It should be a nonpartisan issue; the fact that it’s not is disgusting, and it’s a testament to how terrible these people are, like Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, President Trump, Vice President Pence, and people just all over the Senate and the state level, too, that are supported by the NRA. Get the speaker to get some bills on the floor and let’s change this shit.

Jen Kirby

I hope you and your classmates do have the opportunity to talk to these leaders face to face. Is there anything big that I might be missing that you want to let me know about?

David Hogg

The people out there that feel infuriated by this and disgusted, I agree, you should. But we have to turn this anger and passion toward the politicians and the sick people that allowed this to continue, not toward each other as Democrats and Republicans. We need to come together as Americans. This is our future, and we need to fix it.

I wish that every single person, everybody that stood up from my school and [has] been on their news so much, like Emma and I … was a nobody still. I wish we were just out there with the other people taking action. We’re getting so much attention from this. I feel like it’s distracting from the 17 victims and the thousands of others that have died as a result. Those are the people that we need to remember.

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