When an active shooter killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14, 2012, I was six years old—coincidentally, the same age as many of the victims. While many young students, myself included, could not fully comprehend what had happened that day, many of my friends did not learn about it until they were much older because their school administrators wanted to preserve a false sense of safety.
Unfortunately, I am now nearing adulthood, yet nothing has changed. Not only am I aware of what occurred at Sandy Hook, but in countless other communities as well, from Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland to The Covenant School in Nashville. As I came of age, I realized that the root problem is access to guns—specifically, assault weapons—and I want to do anything I can to address this issue.
The overwhelming majority of school shootings in the United States over the past decade-plus have involved the use of assault weapons. While the Second Amendment outlines the right to own firearms, my Gen Z peers and I believe that there is a line that separates our Second Amendment and the use of military-grade weapons. Now, more than ever, I am aware of the threat that assault weapons pose to our communities.
If we want to put an end to mass shootings in schools, we need to take bold and unprecedented steps to change our gun laws. One critical component of this is to spread awareness and educate others so we can spark change.
That is why students at Brighton Hall, where I will be a senior this fall, organized a walkout and protest following the Uvalde school shooting. My peers and I spread news about the walkout via word of mouth, and soon nearly every student left their classes to join us. They joined in solidarity with the victims of the Uvalde shooting and with the intention of spreading awareness of the need for gun reform in America. The walkout was a resounding success, as many people driving by honked in solidarity. Further, the faculty at our school supported our demonstration, even going so far as to make attendance accommodations and even march with us.
Banning assault weapons is not only important to me on safety grounds—it also aligns with the core Jewish value of Pikuach Nefesh, the idea that saving lives supersedes all else. As a fellow for JCJ, I have been able to use my voice to spread my Jewish values and urge my elected representatives to pass gun control reforms such as the Assault Weapons Ban.
Advocating for gun control is not a vanity issue. It’s quite literally a matter of life and death. As a nation and as individual communities, we cannot wait for the next tragedy to strike before we decide to take action. My generation and I hope that we will soon live in a country where people do not have to fear losing their lives due to gun violence, and we are taking action to achieve this goal.
Waylon Richling is a JCJ Micah D. Bycel Legislative Fellow and rising senior at Brighton Hall School in Burbank.