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Newtown Students: Four Things We Learned Talking To Congress About Gun Laws

Carlos Soto

Carlos Soto speaks to Generation Progress about his activism.

We were two in a group of only five students the first time we spoke with our representatives in Congress, asking them to support universal background checks for gun sales in the U.S. That visit last June coincided with the six-month anniversary of the shooting in our hometown—Newtown, Conn. During that meeting, we saw lawmakers’ reactions to our stories as students and realized the impact our voices had. So we immediately set our goal for the next trip: bring more students.

Last week, we visited Washington, DC for the nine-month anniversary of the shooting and brought about 20 Millennials from Newtown, Conn., Chicago, and Hartford, Conn., along with us to speak with Congress about supporting background check legislation.

After this visit, we returned to our hometowns with four important conclusions.

Young people are powerful and courageous. The students who came to DC to tell our stories broke the stereotype of teens being lazy and careless. They showed more strength, kindness, and courage in two days of non-stop advocacy than many individuals show in a lifetime. By 2020, we will make up about 40 percent of the voting population in America, yet at the same time, we are the generation most disproportionately affected by gun violence. In fact, gun violence is the leading cause of death for black Millennial males, and it is the second leading cause of death for our generation as a whole. This weekend, we showed that we care about our friends and our future.

Our visit impacted lawmakers. After seeing how the elected officials/staffers behaved and reacted in June with a mostly-adult group, and then observing their reactions with a student group, it was clear that they were not only inspired by our strength to relive our stories over and over again in each meeting, but they were more open-minded and interested in pursuing dialogue with us. These are some of the most important and long-lasting ways we can make an impact, and we will absolutely continue to find a way legislators and students can change the tides of America’s future together.

Gun violence victims share one voice. One of the most astounding moments of this trip was standing in the middle of the group behind the podium at our press conference. Hadiya Pendleton’s mother, Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL), and other Chicago folks stood on our left, while Newtown students, family members of victims from Aurora, Colo., Moms Demand Action members, and Hartford, Conn., folks stood on our right. Lawmakers and Americans affected by unspeakable tragedy stood together and vowed to continue moving forward as one. We stood side-by-side at the press conference, and we will no doubt always have this connection through experience and emotion. Urban and suburban violence victims stand for the same change, and we realized the similarities of our stories.

We set a precedent. We will continue to work alongside groups and organizations throughout the country to ensure our efforts to inspire and include Millennial voices in support for gun reform legislation continues gaining momentum.

[WATCH Sarah and Carlos Soto speak to Generation Progress about their activism:]

These last nine months have been an overwhelming mix of hardships, obstacles, miracles, and beautiful moments. My mom walks into the Sandy Hook Elementary School building each morning to a classroom that has more empty seats this year where some of the students killed last December would have sat; the pain of that day still lingers throughout the halls.

Our Chicago counterparts returned home to the unofficial murder capitol of the United States and face similar memories of gun violence. As of today, America has lost about 30 classrooms worth of American children to gun violence in these nine months since Newtown. Yet, we are more determined and hopeful than ever because we now know first hand that our generation can be the changing force on this issue so that our children can live in a safer America.

Video by Scott Keyes and Doug Bair.

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