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Vermont students push for action in the wake of recent mass shootings

A chalk drawing that reads "We Demand Action" in front of Essex High School.
Maddie Ahmadi, Courtesy
Last week, hundreds of students at Essex High School walked out of class to demand action in response to the shooting at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Live call-in discussion: In the wake of recent mass shootings, including at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, Vermont students are pushing for change. This hour, we hear from high school students from around Vermont about policy changes that would make them feel safer in their schools and communities. We also speak to a mass shooting prevention and response expert and a professor who studies the politics of gun control.

Our guests are:

  • Maddie Ahmadi, with the Students Demand Action chapter at Essex High School, who took part in that school's walk-out last week
  • Emma Worton, a junior at Rutland High School
  • Hawthorne Hughes and Mairi Gabel, sophomores at South Burlington High School and two of the co-organizers of a recent school walk-out
  • Jaclyn Schildkraut, associate professor of criminal justice at the State University of New York at Oswego, who focuses on prevention and response strategies and supporting shooting survivors
  • Robert Spitzer, distinguished service professor emeritus in the political science department at SUNY Cortland

During the show, we heard from Essex High School junior Maddie Ahmadi. She helped lead a school walkout the day after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. She's also a member of Students Demand Action, which works to end gun violence. She spoke to host Mikaela Lefrak about her advocacy work and her feelings about school safety.
Here is an excerpt of their conversation, lightly edited and condensed for clarity:

Mikaela Lefrak: What did you feel when you heard the news of the school shooting in Texas?

Maddie Ahmadi: Well, like always, it is a devastating thing to hear. And it is scary and tragic. But as a student, I think we all know the feeling of, "Oh, this has happened again, we're not surprised." As students we know about the inaction that has come from Congress. We know about the weak gun laws across the country. And we know that this is a real reality when we walk into school every day. So I honestly felt a little bit numb and not surprised. And if we don't act, this stuff will continue to happen over and over again.

Mikaela Lefrak: You organized a walkout as part of that goal of acting of making some sort of change in what can feel like a really impossible situation. What were your goals with the walkout?

Maddie Ahmadi: We had two goals. One was to show that students really care about this issue. We had hundreds of students walk out of the front doors of Essex High School and protest our weak gun laws, and grieve together over the tragedy that happened in Uvalde, Texas. Our second goal was to encourage students to act — and that looks like calling your legislators, driving action to the Senate switchboard, and ensuring that we hold our leaders in office accountable for passing common sense gun legislation.

Mikaela Lefrak: You mentioned common sense gun legislation. And lots of people disagree about what exactly that means. And here in Vermont, of course, there are many people who really value the Second Amendment and the ability to buy and own guns. Are those conversations happening in your community?

Maddie Ahmadi: Absolutely. I mean, we live in Vermont, a really rural state with a rich hunting culture. And this isn't about us controlling people's right to own a gun. We actually really don't love the word gun control because it doesn't perfectly get our point across. What we're trying to do is have gun violence prevention, and that's a safety issue. When we reframe this to talk about safety and bring together this common idea that we want to keep everyone's family safe — which I think is something that all people are striving to do — we're able to bring people from across the aisle together to pass legislation that, if you are a person who can own a firearm anyway, shouldn't be a problem.

Mikaela Lefrak: Maddie, can I ask how old you are?

Maddie Ahmadi: 17.

Mikaela Lefrak: I ask, because listening to you, I'm so struck and impressed by how much you know about this issue and how eloquently you can communicate your message. But I have to say, it also makes me really sad that a 17-year-old in our society has to be so well versed in the realities of what can happen with a mass shooting and the inaction of some of our legislators. How do you feel about that?

Maddie Ahmadi: You know, I think it's a good point. And I think it's also just the truth that we don't have a choice. We are aware that if our legislators don't act — and knowing the statistics that 110 Americans, on average, are shot and killed every day — we know that eventually that statistic is going to reach us. We are a country of survivors. And I think that's really powerful, right? We have more guns in America than we do people. We have a uniquely American issue that is gun violence. And so because of those scary statistics and the real possibility that eventually gun violence will impact students and our community, we have to act. We have to care, and we have to be able to talk to adults in the community about what they can do to prevent tragedies like this from occurring. It's kind of the only choice.

Broadcast live at noon on Wednesday, June 1, 2022; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet us @vermontedition.

Mikaela Lefrak is the host and senior producer of Vermont Edition. Her stories have aired nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Marketplace, The World and Here & Now. A seasoned local reporter, Mikaela has won two regional Edward R. Murrow awards and a Public Media Journalists Association award for her work.
Matt Smith worked for Vermont Public from 2017 to 2023 as managing editor and senior producer of Vermont Edition.
Tedra joined Vermont Public as a producer for Vermont Edition in January 2022 and now serves as the Managing Editor and Senior Producer. Before moving to Vermont, she was a journalist in New York City for 20 years. She has a master’s degree in journalism from New York University.