During first period English last Friday at Capital high school in Helena, student Noah Whitehorn, felt his phone buzz with a notification; 10 people were dead following a school shooting in a small town just outside of Houston, Texas.
“I almost cried in the middle of English class. How is this still happening? After all that we’ve done in the past few months you’d think that at least something would have been accomplished.”
Whitehorn is a member of the Helena Youth Against Gun Violence. The group, along with others in Montana, have followed in the footsteps of the national March For Our Lives movement, advocating for gun violence awareness and changes in firearm policy.
On Thursday, one day before the Texas shooting, student leaders of the national movement spoke to hundreds of journalists at the annual Education Writers Association conference in Los Angeles.
David Hogg survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Florida in February. Seventeen people died there and it lead to the rise of the March For Our Lives movement.
“Both Democrats and Republicans will refuse to acknowledge these subjects because they’re too touchy, when they’re costing our government money, costing lives, and letting the future of America bleed out,” Hogg says.
Montana student leaders haven’t been calling for all of the same kinds of action as their national counterparts. But on some issues, they are in sync, like in advocating for background checks and gun safety.
“Make sure if you’re out buying a gun, because you’re afraid or whatever, take some safety classes and get a trigger lock for God’s sake.”
Hogg says too many kids die by committing suicide with a parent’s gun and those deaths could have been prevented with proper gun storage and safety. Those are things local Montana groups support. But the national leaders’ language at times runs more controversial than what some Montana student leaders have been expressing.
Take this clip. David Hogg starts and is joined by Emma Gonzalez, another Florida school shooting survivor and March For Our Lives leader.
“There’s a school safety aspect,"Hogg says, "there’s a discrimination aspect, and there's also …"
“It’s just cheaper to take away the guns that are imperative to living in America," Gonzalez says. "You don’t need an AR-15 to protect yourself in bed from a robber at night. You don’t need an AR-15 to have fun at a shooting range.”
Talk about taking guns away, even when it’s followed by some kind of qualification or explanation, makes local groups like Helena Youth Against Gun Violence try to distinguish themselves from their national counterparts.
Clara McRae is with the Helena group.
“Sometimes people for the national March For Our Lives or Youth In Power will say something super radical and people will send it to us and say, ‘well you believe that. No, we don’t, stop. And it’s tough because also at a national level people perceive Montana as crazy and uninformed and uneducated. And it’s hard to tell people on the national level no we’re not. Most people aren't. Even the people who love guns and love their Second Amendment; people are rational, and you have to actually just have a discussion,” McRae says.
Members of the Helena Youth Against Gun Violence say they aren't planning a walkout or any kind of local activism directly in response to the shooting in Texas. However the group says they’re continuing to met with statewide and and local politicians and hope to help propose bills in the 2019 Montana legislative session aimed at preventing gun violence here.
A student activist with the Fight For Missoula Lives groups says there may be events planned this week in response the Texas shooting, but nothing is set up yet.
Both the Missoula and Helena groups plan on working with Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America to host events early next month where people wear orange to raise awareness of gun violence.
Noah Whitehorn with the Helena Youth Against Gun Violence says when he and his classmates read news of the shooting in Texas Friday, its impact was dulled by its regularity.
“I think with this shooting there was a lot less, 'we need to start doing something,' and more, 'I’m not surprised this happened again,'” Whitehorn says.