Camden Hills Regional High School student Pearl Benjamin gave a powerful speech March 1 at the State House calling on legislators to do more to protect teens from gun violence.

Benjamin, 16, of Camden, is a tenth-grade student. She attended a rally of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition along with her mother and four of her classmates. She delivered a stern warning for lawmakers that they needed to take action or they would be replaced.

"When my parents were teenagers, the norms were cassette tapes, cigarettes, and boom boxes. In my generation, what’s normal are smartphones, Netflix, SnapChat…and mass shootings," she said. "…Why do my classmates and I now expect regular 'lockdown' drills to prepare for the threat of an armed peer? Why have we been burdened with anxiety at our schools, afraid that ours might be the next to fall victim to an angry guy with a gun?" (See the editorial page for the full text of her speech).

"You (lawmakers) are ignoring us now," she said. "I think I know why. It’s because we are too young to vote, and too easy to dismiss. …Legislators, it’s time to pass common sense gun laws. It’s time for universal background checks. It’s time to ban high-capacity clips. It’s time to raise the minimum age for gun sales to 21. It’s time to ban assault weapons. And it’s time to dismantle the manipulative NRA. Take action while you still can, because if you don’t fit into this new world we are creating, believe me, we will vote you out."

Benjamin delivered this speech in a noise-filled room as members of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition stood behind her on the marble staircase and members of the gun rights group Gun Owners of Maine faced her, some yelling during the event.

"Delivering my speech at the Augusta State House Gun Advocacy Day was actually much easier than I expected," she said later. "I believe I was more angry than nervous before and while speaking — angry at the lack of action that had been taken in previous years to prevent kids like me from being shot and killed all over the country, and angry towards the members of the audience at the State House and their blatant disrespect for the lives of the Parkland kids, which were lost and for the school administrators, parents, and students such as myself who came with a story to tell."

Her mother, Karin Leuthy, who was there that day said the gun rights activists were rude at the event, even going so far as to yell during the moment of silence the coalition had called to remember the 17 who died in the mass shooting Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

At the beginning of her speech Benjamin called the gun rights activists out, saying she wanted to remind them this was an advocacy day and not a standoff.

She attended the event with four other Camden students: Greta Bishop, Iris Luce, Meredith Luce and Phoebe Walsh.

It was not the only issue they spoke to that day at the State House. They also attended a hearing and spoke out against a bill that has been proposed that would reduce the minimum wage for teenagers to a 20 percent lower training wage.

Benjamin and her friends have started a new organization to advocate for the rights of teenagers across the state called Maine Teen Advocacy Coalition. The group has an active Facebook page where their efforts can be followed.

In this way she is following in her mother's footsteps. Leuthy is the co-founder of Suit Up Maine, which provides information and takes stands on issues in the state. Pearl Benjamin is also the daughter of Mark Benjamin of the marketing firm Naretiv in Rockland.

"My mother is an extremely inspirational activist, and has been encouraging me to speak up for what I believe in since I was very young," Pearl Benjamin said. "…The differences she’s made have inspired me to work towards making the world a better place for my generation."

You can see her full speech as our guest editorial this week in The Camden Herald.

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