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Students Describe How They Developed Their Views On Guns


There might be a lot of empty seats in schools across the country tomorrow. That's when many students plan to walk out of class in a demonstration calling for stricter gun laws. High school students who hold that view have been getting a lot of attention since the shooting in Parkland, Fla., last month. NPR's Jeff Brady talked with students around the country to learn how they developed their views on guns.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: It's difficult to know the views of high school students overall because polling firms generally don't survey people under 18. But individually, it's clear many have developed strong opinions.

LUVONDA FULLER: We need to change our gun law, and you need to be at least 21 or older to get a gun.

BRADY: Luvonda Fuller (ph) is a junior at Franklin Learning Center in Philadelphia. Name just about any policy question on guns, and she favors limiting access.

FULLER: I'm scared of guns so (laughter) I don't like them at all.

BRADY: She says that comes from her experience living in a rough part of Philadelphia. Fuller says shootings were common, and her mom tried to protect her from the consequences, but that wasn't always possible. When Fuller was 8 or 9 years old, she watched as her mother cared for a boy who was shot.

FULLER: And my mom was holding the boy in her hands. And she was like, get a spoon so he won't bite on his tongue. And he passed away right there.

BRADY: I talked with more than a dozen high school-aged students across the country, and a theme emerged in what they said. Their opinions depend a lot on how they experienced guns as a young child. Here's 16-year-old Raegen Donohue (ph).

RAEGEN DONOHUE: I live out in the woods, and so my dad has hunted my whole life and I've shot guns pretty much since I've been able to hold them. And it's something that I enjoy doing.

BRADY: Donohue is a junior at State College Area High School in Central Pennsylvania. To her, guns mean family time, recreation and personal safety.

DONOHUE: They've just been seen as almost, like, a protector. So they were never really something that I've been afraid of.

BRADY: Donohue thinks more law-abiding people should own guns, and she thinks restrictions should apply only to those who've committed crimes or who have mental health issues. In Gold Beach, Ore., Derek Punch (ph) is a senior at the local high school. He also has fond memories hunting with his dad, but then he had a very negative experience involving a gun.

DEREK PUNCH: I lost my father. He committed suicide, when I was 13 years old, with a handgun.

BRADY: Still that did not change his views. He opposes all but minimum restrictions on gun ownership.

PUNCH: That never even crossed my mind, the whole blaming it on the gun, the whole blaming it on if he didn't have a gun at the time or - it has nothing to do with that. I mean, spoons don't make people fat. Guns don't kill people. You know? It's as simple as that.

BRADY: Punch argues that his dad was responsible for his own death, not the gun. But some teenagers have changed their views because of a bad experience. Aminah Johnson (ph) is a senior at Cheltenham High School outside Philadelphia.

AMINAH JOHNSON: A couple of years ago, one of my friends' mother was killed by a gun in a domestic violence incident. And ever since then I felt like I understand having guns for hunting or personal safety, but I feel like it gets to a point where it's just excessive and ridiculous and not necessary.

BRADY: It's clear that many high school students have well-developed opinions about how to regulate guns. And, like previous generations, they don't seem interested in compromise. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues, climate change and the mid-Atlantic region. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.