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These students are fed up with going to school scared for their lives

Student-led rallies in support of gun control are picking up momentum in Florida and around the country, in part born out of anger over the easy availability of assault-style weapons. Judy Woodruff gets perspectives from Camille Richter and Jake Bennett, two Virginia high school students who took part in a walkout from their schools.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we said at the beginning of the program, student-led rallies have picked up a momentum of their own in Florida and around the country, in large part out of anger over the easy availability of assault-style weapons and other kinds of guns.

    There were rallies here in Washington as well today, in front of the White House and another near the Capitol.

    Two students who took part in the rallies after a walkout from their schools join me now.

    Camille Richter is a senior at McLean High School in McLean, Virginia. And Jake Bennett is a senior at H.B. Woodlawn Secondary School in Arlington, Virginia.

    And thank you to both of you for coming out here to the studio to talk to us.

    Jake, I'm going to start with you.

    You walked, you were just telling me, something like five miles from your school all the way to the White House today from Arlington into D.C.

  • Jake Bennett:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Why did you want to be a part of this today?

  • Jake Bennett:

    Because we live so close to D.C., we felt that it wouldn't be the same if we just walked outside, if we just walked to a courthouse, which is where our public school headquarters are.

    We felt driven to march to the White House and to really show that we would go this far to voice our discontent and our anger with Congress.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Camille, why is this so important to you?

  • Camille Richter:

    You know, I am sick of going to school every day being scared for my life and being scared for my friends' lives.

    We live in a relatively safe part of Virginia — at least I do — in McLean. And it's silly that we live in a First World country and still, first graders, second graders, like, young kids, all through high schoolers are afraid of going to school, and they're afraid of what's going to happen to them. It's not right, and it really needs to stop.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jake, you were saying that you feel strongly that something has to be done. Do you have an idea right now of what you think it should be?

  • Jake Bennett:

    I think that universal background checks need to be implemented to buy a gun. And I think that we should ban assault rifles again.

    They were banned for 10 years, and that really did work. There's no need for American civilians to have a machine of war. They're not used for hunting or protection. They're used for murder.

    And I think that those are two steps in the right direction. Background checks are very fast. They take two minutes, and they would really save a lot of lives, in my opinion.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And yet a lot of people, as you know, Camille, because we haven't had that legislation since it was allowed to expired, argue that people should be allowed to buy pretty much any kind of gun they want.

  • Camille Richter:

    Yes. It's ridiculous.

    Growing up — we live in Virginia. We have a rule that you can only buy one gun a month, which, for us, in Virginia, people have complained is too restrictive for guns.

    I have a lot of family from Wisconsin, hunters. I have been around guns for a long time. I know what it's like. You shoot a gun, you live in Virginia. It's a pretty regular thing. But there's a difference between a hunting rifle and an assault rifle. There's a difference between military-grade weaponry and weaponry that could be perceived as being part of American culture with hunting.

    It's just — it's unnecessary. It's blatantly unnecessary.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jake, you mentioned the assault weapons.

  • Jake Bennett:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I know one of the ideas that's being discussed today is putting an age limit on who can buy an AR-15 or another assault weapon.

  • Jake Bennett:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Would something like that, you think, be acceptable?

  • Jake Bennett:

    I think that part of that would be acceptable. I think that an age limit should be implemented, but other restrictions should be added on to it.

    I really don't believe that anyone needs an AR-15 or other assault weapon. They don't serve any purpose, except for massacre. It's what the shooters out in Sandy Hook in Newtown used and Orlando and now at Stoneman Douglas. It's unnecessary.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Camille, there's also been a proposal that there be more guns in schools to protect students, that teachers or others be trained and armed to protect students.

  • Camille Richter:

    Yes, I think it's just — it's expensive and unnecessary.

    You know, how much money does it cost to give every teacher and potentially students the training and the weaponry that they need in order to protect themselves? It just — it feels like there is an easier solution to the problem that people and lawmakers are kind of avoiding.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jake, do you feel like you're getting through?

    I know you all were just watching some of the discussion inside the White House.

  • Jake Bennett:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump invited students and some parents who have been through these tragedies, and educators.

    Do you feel like the message is getting through to the people who can make a difference?

  • Jake Bennett:

    The message is — that the Florida students are sending, you know, that we were sending, what students all across America are sending, parents, teachers, everyday people are trying to send to Congress and to the president are that, you know, Congress needs to stop saying yes to the NRA and start saying yes to the American children and to safety in schools.

    I think that's the message that we were trying to send. I think that what we did today was set forward a motion that will keep — you know, it will keep building momentum until it does make a change.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about that, Camille?

    Because there have been school shootings before. There have been protests before. But it hasn't lasted or there's been a little bit of change, but not a change. These things keep happening.

  • Camille Richter:

    Right.

    It's just we elected Congress to be the representatives of the people, not to be the representatives of big lobby firms and of the NRA. And it feels like, when our legislature and when our representatives ignore the epidemic of shootings that are going on across the U.S., it makes you wonder, who they are working for?

    You know, you want to be represented. You want your voice to be heard. So…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, you know, some say, well, these young people feel strongly, but they're just high school students.

  • Camille Richter:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How much difference can they really make?

  • Camille Richter:

    I think we can make a huge difference.

    There has been some talk from some representatives that, you know, the high school students who are making a stand in Florida are plants by the FBI or they're paid to do this. And it's absolutely ridiculous.

    Again, like we were saying earlier, if you're 18, men are old enough to be drafted. At 16, at least in Virginia, you can buy a car, which is dangerous within itself. Why can't — why can you buy a gun?

    Well, it's just — you can do these things. It just — it doesn't make sense. We have a voice. And we're clearly, you know, able enough to use it. You know, we know what we're talking about, to an extent, but…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Jake, do you feel that you and your friends are committed to stick with this, with this issue?

  • Jake Bennett:

    Oh, absolutely.

    We are committed to keep doing whatever is necessary to effect change, whether it's rallies, you know, protests, whatever it takes, really reaching out to people online. It's not going to be just us that effects this change. It's going to be high schoolers all across America who does.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, I know you have managed to get the attention of a lot of people.

    Jake Bennett, Camille Richter, thank you both.

  • Camille Richter:

    Thank you.

  • Jake Bennett:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now we get a teacher's perspective.

    Mike Conrad says the issue of school shootings has come up repeatedly in his own classroom. He teaches video production at Royal Oak High School outside Detroit, Michigan. And he joins me now from there.

    Mike Conrad, welcome to the program.

    You were able to listen to these two students we were speaking with. What did you make of what they had to say?

  • Mike Conrad:

    Well, I applaud them for everything they had to say.

    The students, not only Camille and Jake, but the students around the country, are taking a stand. And they're using the right language. They are using the right vocabulary. They are fed up. And it's time for them to help make change.

    So I applaud the fact that they went to the rally today. I enjoyed hearing their thoughts, and I agree with them.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You were telling us that your own students are speaking up. What are they saying about the shooting in Florida?

  • Mike Conrad:

    There's a lot of discussion. The discussion tone has changed in the past couple of days.

    Students are scared. I can give you an example that, daily, just a generic P.A. announcement throughout the school. When that tone goes off, the tension heightens. And you hear a student gasp or you hear a student say with fear, oh, no, because they don't know what the announcement is going to say. That shouldn't happen in the classroom.

    There are students who are asking me how I'm prepared to defend them should a shooter come into the school. It's a difficult question to answer, because I can talk about all of our drills, all of our lockdowns. I can talk about everything that we do as a school district and what I do in terms of my own knowledge, but, at the end of the day, how do you prepare yourself for one of these situations that happened in Florida?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, what is your thinking about teachers being armed, teachers being trained? It came up just this afternoon at the White House. The president raised it with the students and teachers and parents who were — he was meeting with. What do you think of that idea?

  • Mike Conrad:

    I think that the moment that you put a gun on the hip of a teacher in a classroom, that we have accepted the norm that school shootings will not stop, that we are now on the front line to defend against them, instead of trying to find a way to stop them.

    And I look at a classroom as a safe environment. And I never look at it, when I say that to students or to parents, that a safe environment in a classroom means defending against shootings. What I look at, is it a place where a student can talk to me, where a student can bring their problems to me?

    When they know that one of their friends might go home this weekend and harm themselves, and not come back on Monday, and they come to me and tell me that, I know that they trust me that they can come and say those things to me.

    That's a safe environment. The second I put a gun on my hip, I don't think that that relationship continues.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    If it's not arming teachers, then what are some solutions, do you think? What's the role that teachers can play to keep students safe and themselves?

  • Mike Conrad:

    Well, I think some of it is education and awareness.

    I think that Camille and Jake did a great job of explaining some of the things that have to happen prior to the point where a shooter ever walks into a school. Teachers shouldn't be a line of defense. The point should never get to the point where they're asked to do so.

    So, I think we, as teachers — I teach high school students, 15-, 16-, 17-, 18-year-old students. I should be preparing them to make those decisions to go out and vote, to call their legislators, to march, should they want to.

    But I think my job as a teacher is to inspire and to educate, and I think that's the best thing that we can do at that point in a classroom, not make it a military zone.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mike Conrad is a teacher at Royal Oak High School near Detroit.

    Thank you very much.

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