Guest Editorial

A warning to lawmakers on the new normal of mass shootings

By Pearl Benjamin | Mar 07, 2018
Source: File photo Pearl Benjamin

Camden Hills student Pearl Benjamin delivered this speech March 1 at the State House in Augusta. See the front page for a news story on the event.

My name is Pearl Benjamin. I am 16 years old and I attend Camden Hills Regional High School. My friends and I have grown up as part of a generation with a different set of norms from most of yours. 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.

Every year more than 2,500 kids are killed with guns in America. That’s seven of us every single day. This is our “normal.”

How did this come to be? 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?

The answer is simple: our safety is not a top priority for you. Legislators favor political power over our lives -- accepting campaign contributions from the NRA, prioritizing industry profits over safety, and indulging the whims of Call of Duty voters who have to have their deadly toys.

Here in Maine, 18-year-olds can purchase assault-style weapons. No permit is required to purchase a gun, and background checks are not required for private sales. That means violent criminals, people who are dangerously mentally ill, and boyfriends who hit their girlfriends can all buy weapons. Legislators -- and I’m speaking to all of you, Republican, Democrat, and Independent, Liberal, Conservative, and in between -- you have not done enough to protect me and my peers from the terrifyingly real dangers of gun violence.

I know that because I know kids who have guns. I know how easy it is for just about anyone to purchase a weapon that can kill me in an instant. Legislators, you have not done your part to create a system that puts as much space as possible between kids and assault weapons designed with one purpose and one purpose only: to kill.

I don’t feel like it should be the job of teenagers to teach adults about right and wrong. My friends and I didn’t come here today to try to convince you that our lives are more important than your job, the gun industry, or the hobbies of weekend warriors. We’ve already tried that, and you didn’t listen. Today we are here to warn you. We are here to tell you that your time for valuing your own benefit over the lives of others is running out. Because of my generation, your position of power is no longer set in stone.

This movement launched by American teenagers is as formidable as it looks. We are passionate. We are informed. We are unfazed. Some of you still don’t quite understand where all these intelligent, outspoken kids came from. We must be actors. Actually, kids like me have been saying things like this for a very long time. In cities all over this country, kids like me have been yelling about innocent brown boys in hoodies being killed by those so-called “good guys with guns.” We have been here, making the same arguments and calling for the same reform for years. And you have ignored us.

You are ignoring us now. I think I know why. It’s because we are too young to vote, and too easy to dismiss. Lawmakers don’t feel threatened by us. After all, we’re just lazy, screen-obsessed teenagers, right? Who cares about our complaints.

If you’d been listening, you’d have learned something about the teenagers around you. The teens that came with me today are impassioned students who also work multiple jobs, teach kids in after-school programs, and own their own small businesses. You know what else they do? They attend select board meetings, write newspaper articles, submit public testimony, and call their members of congress. We are productive citizens dedicated to making the world a better place -- a place where kids like us feel safe and happy in our towns, our schools, and our homes. A place where Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School can claim its place in history as the site of America’s LAST school shooting.

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.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Mar 08, 2018 16:12

I say A-Men to that! ....

Posted by: Harold Bryson Mosher | Mar 08, 2018 07:56

What Pearl said....


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