By guest writer Shayna Levy

In 2021, gun violence was the leading cause of death for children and teens in the United States. Between August 1, 2021, and May 31, 2022, 59 people died from firearms on school campuses and another 138 were wounded. Easy access to guns in the home because of a lack of safe storage laws is dangerous for children. In less than five years, Texas experienced two major school shootings in Santa Fe and Uvalde, resulting in the death of 31 students and educators. Gun violence affects young people uniquely, and because of this, it’s important that young people have a voice in the movement to end gun violence. 

In June of 2022, I planned a rally on the steps of the Texas Capitol in the wake of the horrific tragedy at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. The rally was a March For Our Lives Rally, because I had founded a March For Our Lives chapter with my friend a few years prior. We had both been drawn to March For Our Lives as incoming freshmen in high school because it was led by young people, for young people.

We appreciated the direct approach they took to advocating for gun violence prevention, such as rallying and reaching out to our representatives through phone calls and emails, and we wanted to bring that movement to our community. Other organizations in Texas were on the Capitol grounds every day talking directly to representatives and their offices, and while we greatly admired the work they were doing, we felt that all we could do was support from the sidelines because we couldn’t leave school to join them whenever we wanted. 

Getting involved in advocacy as a young person can be daunting; I often feel like there is not a lot of tangible action I can take and I can feel disconnected from the conversations happening around issues because I don’t do advocacy work as a full time job. Although there are so many young people who care so deeply about gun violence prevention and so many young people who want to engage in advocacy efforts, it often seems like there is no place for us to go. However, some organizations are trying to change that narrative, by making it more accessible for teens to get involved and creating resources directed specifically at young people and teenagers.

I know that my friends all care deeply about gun violence, especially in schools, but many of them are discouraged by what seems like the lack of opportunity for young people to get involved. Many of my friends also don’t understand the legislative process, and are removed from what happens at the Capitol during Session. They don’t follow bills, and they don’t know when impactful bills hit important milestones like getting a committee hearing or being voted on by representatives on the House or Senate floor. It can be hard to keep up with it all on top of school work and extracurricular activities, and if you feel disengaged from advocacy spaces as well, it almost feels not worth following the lawmaking process.  

For teens who want to get involved, there are so many ways you can help. Even if you can’t vote for policymakers who would support common sense gun reform, you can write to your current policymakers encouraging them to support gun violence prevention legislation. And even if you can’t go in person to testify in front of a committee, you can submit written testimony, and it will still be counted. You can attend rallies and marches, you can use social media as a tool to spread awareness about gun violence and bring people into the movement. You can volunteer for organizations that are on the front lines everyday, like Texas Gun Sense. I know from experience that it is intimidating, but there is space for young people in this movement and it’s up to all of us to take advantage of it. 

That’s why I think that the work that Texas Gun Sense is doing to engage youth and teens is so important. Texas Gun Sense is making resources aimed specifically at young people, with educational tools and actions young people can take, and they provided help and support to March For Our Lives when we were planning the June 2022 rally. By helping spotlight and support the work that teens are doing in this movement, they are helping make the movement accessible for teens who want to join. 

Texas Gun Sense attends committee hearings and brings volunteers with them to testify, puts out educational materials, and leads a coalition of other gun safety advocacy groups. The work they do is impactful and meaningful, and they are on the front lines of this movement pushing for change. Though they are not a youth-led organization, they are trying to make gun violence prevention movement inclusive for young people. Through their work and the young people they work with, we can see what kind of change can happen. 

Shayna Levy is an intern at Texas Gun Sense and a rising high school senior.