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“You’re either with us or against us”: Why teenagers have to take charge in Trump's America

Gen Z is often dismissed as selfish, lazy narcissists, but these survivors are proving they’re worth more than the entire U.S. government.

By Kate Wagner

Emma Gonzalez cowered in a classroom while someone she knew, a former classmate, stormed the school and slaughtered seventeen people. Just days later, she was giving a rousing speech about the inadequacies of her government.

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School didn't experience as many fatalities as other schools. In 2012, 27 were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but the survivors were first-graders and the victim's parents were often so distraught they could barely stand, let alone fight U.S legislators.

When nine black worshippers were killed by a white supremacist at a Charleston church, the devastating racism and the fact their families showed forgiveness in a way most of us could never fathom certainly overshadowed the gun debate.

But the survivors of the Parkland shooting aren't too young to verbalise their fears and they aren't forgiving anyone. Not the lawmakers who allowed the shooter access to a gun; not Trump for winding back Obama-era regulations that would have made it easier to block the sale of firearms to people with certain mental illnesses; certainly not the politicians who accept donations from NRA who offer their "thoughts and prayers".

Today, thousands stormed Town Hall in Florida to demand answers and change from Marco Rubio and NRA reps. It was a powerful piece of television and Rubio had his back firmly against a wall as teenagers and parents of victims challenged their commitment to semi-automatic weapons.

Teenagers who should be studying for finals are instead studying mass shootings in their country, researching statistics and facts to convince their government young lives are more important than the donations from the NRA.

"In Florida, to buy a gun you do not need a permit, you do not need a gun license, and once you buy it, you do not need to register it," Emma explained to an enraged crowd. "You do not need a permit to carry a concealed rifle or shot gun. You can buy as many guns as you want at one time."

Instead of asking friends what dress they should buy for prom, Emma and her classmates are arming themselves with defensive counter-points to the astounding victim-blaming.

"Those talking about how we shouldn't have ostracised him, you didn't know this kid! Okay?! We did!" She shot back at those who had the nerve to suggest this attack was spurred by other children.

Politicians, including the president, were quick to blame mental health, but Emma had an answer for that too: "This isn't just a mental health issue. He wouldn't have harmed that many students with a knife!"

Every country has mental health problems – Australia's own mental health care comes under fire regularly – but only kids in America have an omnipresent fear of being murdered in their classroom.

Gen Z is often, and unfairly, painted as uninvolved politically, so why have teenagers been forced to take matters into their own hands? Why are kids reeling from their friends' deaths pushing harder than publically elected officials to stop it ever happening again?

Unlike the lawmakers and politicians in charge of gun law reforms, the survivors of the Florida shooting weren't even born yet when the world witnessed America's most infamous high school massacre. That means their entire schooling career has been shaped by Columbine – they don't know school without shooter drills or locker searches. If every history lesson, recess and PE class came hand-in-hand with the knowledge you could be shot, wouldn't you be pushing your government to do more as well?

Australia is often brought up as the golden child of gun law reforms. We had one horrific mass shooting and the powers to be said 'no more', but we're not the only country to drastically change our gun laws in the wake of tragedy.

In 1996, Thomas Hamilton charged into Dunblane Primary School in Scotland armed with four legally-owned handguns and over 700 rounds of ammunition. In just four short minutes, he murdered 16 children and their teacher, injuring 15 more kids before turning the gun on himself.

The attack happened in the midst of Scotland's growing gun culture, when sports shooting was piquing in popularity. By '97, .22 and higher calibre handguns were banned. Five years after Dunblane, handgun offences fell by almost 80 per cent in Scotland and the United Kingdom hasn't experienced a single school shooting since.

While Australia and the UK acted immediately to stop mass shootings, the actions of American politicians have implied guns are more important than children's lives.

Instead of putting regulations in place, they're teaching kindergartners how to maximise the number of lives they can save as they're being massacred.

They're teaching seven-year-olds to get rid of their light-up sneakers because they'll be a more obvious target for shooters.

With American lawmakers apparently more influenced by pay cheques from the NRA than heart-wrenching stories like these, no wonder we have 18-year-olds leading the charge.

"To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you," Emma spat to her audience.

"We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks. Not because we're going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America … we are going to be the last mass shooting."

Listen to the kids Trump - they're angry, they're passionate, and they won't stop until American children aren't afraid to go to school.