At this moment in a fierce, ongoing debate over the future of gun policy in the United States, the voice of high school senior Emma Gonzalez seems to boom louder than those of the National Rifle Association and President Trump.
“We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks. Not because we’re going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America … we are going to be the last mass shooting,” the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student told hundreds of classmates, teachers and supporters on Saturday at a federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, three days after a gunman killed 17 people at the school in Parkland, Fla.
On Sunday, Gonzalez, 18, who appeared on cable news shows to discuss how the country could respond to gun violence, was asked about Trump’s criticism of the FBI on Twitter for failing to act on tips related to shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz.
Gonzalez said the president was trying to blame others.
“The best thing for us to do is ignore him and to continue fighting our fight, the fight he refuses to acknowledge,” she said, calling Trump’s words “disgraceful.”
Gonzalez’s fiery speech has quickly become emblematic of a potentially new strain of furious advocacy. If the Sandy Hook massacre was marked by parents who responded to the horror of losing young children by championing gun restrictions on their behalf, the Parkland students have sparked a roaring teenage indictment of gun advocates and politicians at the center of immovable policies to keep guns in the reach of mass killers.
And in a discussion led by the students themselves, fueled by dramatic videos and photos inside the school, Gonzalez has emerged as one of the leaders. “This is my whole world now,” she told the New York Times on Sunday. “I cannot allow myself to stop talking about this.” Gonzalez could not be immediately reached for comment.
She told the newspaper that singer Demi Lovato contacted her after a tweet mentioning Gonzalez, a sign of her message rippling across the country. Later in the day, actress Reese Witherspoon weighed on Twitter: “Kids like #emmagonzalez will change the world. Listen to her!”
Numerous students have sought to apply pressure to lawmakers and the president through the news outlets and directly through social media.
“We are losing our lives while the adults are playing around. … This is about us creating a badge of shame for any politicians accepting money from the NRA and using us as collateral,” Cameron Kasky, a junior at the school, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” The NRA did not return a request for comment.
Speaking to Trump directly on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” student David Hogg said: “We’ve seen a government shutdown, we’ve seen tax reform, but nothing to save our children’s lives. Are you kidding me? You think now is the time to focus on the past and not the future to prevent the deaths of thousands of other children? You sicken me.”
Students are also organizing a gun-control march in Washington and other cities on March 24. Trump will meet with shooting victims for a “listening session” Wednesday, but it unclear who he will meet with, the Associated Press reported.
In her Saturday speech, Gonzalez did not spare gun enthusiasts who push back against calls for semiautomatic rifle restrictions and mental-health background checks by decrying regulations as attacks on the Second Amendment.
“When adults tell me I have the right to own a gun, all I can hear is my right to own a gun outweighs your student’s right to live. All I hear is mine, mine, mine, mine,” she said, relaying the thoughts of a teacher.
“If the president wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy and how it should never have happened and maintain telling us how nothing is going to be done about it, I’m going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association,” she said, adding that she knew the answer.
“Thirty million dollars,” she said, an apparent reference to the amount spent by the NRA in ad buys independent from the campaign, much of it designed to attack his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. “They say no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS,” she said.
On MSNBC, Gonzalez noted that Trump has found time to attack the FBI, lawmakers, liberal politicians and the House Intelligence Committee, but he has not tweeted the word “gun” since the massacre (though he did, once, in a criticism of the Democrats’ inability to pass a gun-control bill).
Meanwhile, as #emmagonzalez trends on social media, the NRA’s main Twitter feed has been conspicuously silent. It last put out a message about its podcast titled “Think Aim Fire” on Wednesday at 1:29 p.m. Cruz arrived at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School 50 minutes later, carrying a legally obtained AR-15 in a soft black case.