If it were a normal summer, Jaxon O’Mara would be on vacation. Mollie Davis and Emmett Lockhart would be hanging out with friends — typical teenager stuff, they said.
Instead, they have met with Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and, on Saturday, the man who wants to replace him, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous.
But this is not a normal summer for the teens: In March, there was a shooting at their school, Great Mills High School, that killed one of their classmates.
So, this summer, 17-year-old O’Mara and her family are taking a trip to Parkland, Fla., to meet with survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Davis and Lockhart, both 18, and O’Mara are helping their friends organize protests.
“I’m a student; I’m not supposed to be fully versed on Maryland gun laws, I’m supposed to be fully versed in trigonometry,” O’Mara told Jealous, who met with the three students at an Annapolis Starbucks on Saturday, before a rally that afternoon. They were joined by a reporter from the Capital Gazette, where a gunman recently killed five people.
“It’s not my job to know how our legislature works or how our gun laws work — I was thrown into this,” O’Mara said.
In the months since Jaelynn Rose Willey was killed at Great Mills, shootings in the Capital Gazette newsroom and on the streets of the region’s cities have united teenagers from Maryland’s southern shore and activists from Baltimore, all calling for an end to gun violence.
“I feel like it’s going to happen to every single person,” said Selene San Felice, a Capital Gazette reporter who was in the office when her colleagues were killed. “That was one of my first thoughts when I heard the shots: This is normal now.”
San Felice told Jealous about picking out furniture for the Capital Gazette’s new newsroom. She and her colleagues were looking at tablelike desks when someone pointed out: “There’s nowhere for you to hide.”
“I shouldn’t have to hide,” said San Felice, who took cover under her desk during the shooting.
Jealous told the group that the onus to write and pass gun reform legislation should be on lawmakers.
“It’s not your job as reporters, and it’s not your job as students. That’s for damn sure,” Jealous said.
Jealous agreed that there should have been laws in place to prevent Jarrod Ramos, the suspect in the Annapolis shooting who had been charged with criminal harassment, from buying a weapon. He also said there should be a multistate effort to shut down the illegal gun trade across state lines. Jealous added that everyone should have access to mental health care and there should be social workers in every school.
O’Mara said her meeting in the governor’s office last week went “really well” and that Hogan, too, was receptive to the students’ ideas. Hogan told the students he would support a change to a Maryland law that would make it illegal to store a loaded firearm in a location where someone younger than 18 can access it. Current law covers only those younger than 16.
“I feel very strongly that at this point both Ben and Governor Hogan want to support us the best way that they can,” O’Mara said.
Two days after Hogan told O’Mara that he would reject an election endorsement from the National Rifle Association if it offered one, Jealous gave the same assurance — although, he said, he wasn’t expecting one any time soon.
“I’m pretty sure they have a wanted poster for me up there,” he joked.
Jealous was a young activist himself, and he showed the group a photograph of himself as a student at Columbia University, making a speech in front of the school’s library.
“I’ve been leading protests for a long time,” he told them. “Don’t let anyone discourage or silence you.”
About an hour later, O’Mara was standing in Lawyers Mall, outside the Maryland State House, leading a crowd of protesters who showed up despite an unceasing downpour.
“I want to make our elected officials more transparent and more accessible,” she said through a bullhorn. “They need to remember that they work for us.”
Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley (D) and state Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) also spoke at the rally, calling on lawmakers to protect the state’s schools and streets from gun violence. But mostly it was young advocates who took the microphone and who had their own message for lawmakers.
“We’re here to hold our elected leaders accountable for these preventable tragedies that have taken place, and to send a sign that we’re sick and tired of seeing these incidents affect our communities and family members,” said Nate Tinbite, a junior at John F. Kennedy High School and founder of MoCo Students for Gun Control. “So let me ask, what will we do on November 6?”
“Vote!” the crowd cheered back.
After the rally, the sopping students gathered again at Starbucks. In a few weeks, some will head off to college, others back to high school. But right then, it was another summer day, and there were television interviews to do and more demonstrations to be scheduled.