Listening to Young Voices Speak of Gun Violence

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In the spring of my sophomore year of high school, my friends and I sat in the back corner of our pre-calculus math class during what we thought was just a lockdown drill. “There was supposed to be one tomorrow,” we all thought. “They must be doing it early since everyone found out.”

As the drill became longer, we all started to get worried. Soon rumors started to spread through the school that a gun had been fired three times in one of the three buildings that made up my high school. Or, was it just one shot?  Had a gun just been found? No one had any clear information about what happened.  We frantically texted one another trying to discern the truth, but everyone had heard something different. As we sat in fear, our teacher stood by the door with a pair of scissors and a thumbtack ready to defend the 20-odd students in her class. Hours passed as SWAT moved methodically through the school. We texted our parents to let them know we were safe. Eventually, we were all searched.  Backpacks were emptied in case someone was hiding a weapon. After four hours, the fear was over and we were all sent home.

My mom picked me up, and I don’t think I have ever hugged her harder. A few days later we learned that there had never been any gun. Someone miles away from the school had called the report into the police.  It was all a hoax.

Gun control and safety in our schools have been two of the most discussed issues within the past six months.  Yet, our gun laws have not been made any stricter. Gun violence is an extremely large issue in the United States. Children have died.  Children are dying. This is a frightening moment in the United States, and we are growing more and more politically divided by the minute. However, for the Episcopal Church this is providing a unique opportunity.

The Episcopal Church has never been more popular in the media, due in large part to the engaging power of Michael Curry. This growing attention from the media gives the church a more powerful voice than it has had in my lifetime.  I believe one way we can use our newly amplified voice is to promote stricter gun laws and to become clear advocates for the safety of our young people. We can make it clear that we are a church that welcomes all peoples and cares about the lives of young people in this country.

However, this General Convention is not doing what it can to promote and support the voices of young people. Thanks to the internet and social media young people are well aware of the issues facing our world, and we have the power to voice our opinions on these issues to large audiences at any given time. People often like to say children and youth are the future, but in fact we are the present. We are passionate about political and social issues, such as the rights of LGBTQ+ identified peoples and gender equality. Despite popular belief, we are motivated and actively seeking change in our world. There is much the Episcopal Church and this General Convention can do to support the voices of our young people. But promoting stricter gun laws and safety in schools is one concrete way in which we could make it clear that the Episcopal Church and this General Convention are invested in the lives of our young people, and what they have to say.

It is my hope that future General Conventions will do more to acknowledge and engage with the voices of youth and young adults, as well as taking more immediate and bold action on issues which affect youth and young adults.  And — we don’t have to wait.  We start now by listening to the voices of the young people at this General Convention.

Sophie Kitch-Peck, a rising junior at Mount Holyoke College, is a deputy from the Diocese of Bethlehem.