Cars whirred in the distance as a gentle stillness swept across Lane’s front lawn on March 14, 2018. Hundreds of students held a moment of silence to commemorate the 17 lives lost during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, only a month prior.
The somber moment at Lane was part of a walkout that represented a shift in how students protest gun violence and why the school has expanded its security measures to adapt to threats.
“[The Parkland shooting] was a really big turning point for the nation as a whole,” said 2018 Lane alum Emerson Toomey. “It brought gun violence into the spotlight.”
In the year since the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history on Feb. 14, 2018, Parkland survivors have led a national campaign to advocate for stricter gun laws and have inspired students across the nation to take action locally, including in Chicago.
On her 18th birthday, 2018 Lane alum Cara Fitzgerald gave a speech at a March for Our Lives rally in Chicago’s Union Park on March 24, 2018. The event shed light on how gun violence and public safety is a problem that reaches well beyond school shootings.
“I grew up on the North side and a lot of times we neglect the South and West sides and those are places where there are heavy instances of gun violence,” Fitzgerald said. “Just because it’s not hurting my neighborhood doesn’t mean it’s not hurting my friends and the people I care about.”
Voters across the nation created change last November. Democrats took over the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, and on Feb. 6, the U.S. House held a hearing on gun violence for the first time in eight years. Fitzgerald stressed the immense value of student votes.
“You’re granted the right to vote when you turn 18. That happens in high school,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s best to start forming your opinions and beliefs beforehand so you’re not caught off guard when it comes time to voice your opinion in an election.”
Toomey said that the best way for students to get involved is to contact organizations that support stricter gun laws.
“Find someone that you know or that you just see online that is doing the work, and reach out to them and just ask,” Toomey said. “That’s what I did,” Toomey said.
Toomey also recommends students take steps to educate themselves on gun laws and the root causes of gun violence.
In Chicago, you must be 21, have a firearm owner’s identification card and have a concealed carry license to own and carry a gun, according to a 2017 Chicago Tribune story. Yet 60 percent of illegal guns recovered in Chicago came from states with weaker gun laws, including Indiana, according to the City of Chicago’s 2017 Gun Trace report.
“What we’re seeing [in mainstream media] right now is the way that gun violence impacts people in schools but it also happens in communities, especially in places like Chicago and other urban cities every day,” Emerson said.
Lane security officials also have implemented changes in response to school shootings and other gun violence. Many of those changes, including an expansion of existing security measures, were made before the Parkland shooting, said Mr. Smith, head of security at Lane.
For example, after 8:20 a.m., anyone who enters the school must pass through the metal detector. Security also opened Door A for morning entry with increased security equipment, according to Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith said he is also more careful to monitor students’ comments in the hallways. Even in situations in which he knows students are making threatening comments in jest, he will warn them to be more careful with their language.
“Something 15 years ago that might not have bothered a security officer or myself now bothers me so I think that we’re all on a little higher alert,” Smith said.
Fitzgerald and Toomey encourage students to continue to find ways to educate themselves on public safety issues so they can get involved and take action.
Since the March for Our Lives rally, Fitzgerald has become an advocate for stricter gun laws and for expanding voter registration.
“I encourage people to vote,” Fitzgerald said. “That is the one sure-fire way to make your voice heard.”