Megan Dombrowski is a Students Demand Action National Advisory Board member and volunteer leader of the Wayne State University Students Demand Action in Detroit, Michigan.
My generation, often referred to as the “school shooting generation,” knows all too well the constant threat of gun violence. We grew up watching the names of our peers become hashtags — a shorthand for our country’s uniquely devastating gun violence epidemic. We grew up watching violence on social media and protesting in the streets after police shootings. We grew up pleading with lawmakers as they continually refused to address the weak gun laws that caused this crisis. We grew up knowing silence was not an option. We have endured the trauma of seeing gun violence all around us, and on Election Day 2020, my generation took action like never before.
While less than half of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 29 actually voted in 2016, a November 2020 study from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University estimated 52 to 55% of eligible young people turned out to vote this year. Pundits and pollsters have long said my generation could be a powerful force if we just showed up. Well, we’re here.
Gun violence is my generation’s war.
As a Michigan native, a poll worker, and first-time voter, I am proud to live in a battleground state that was instrumental in sending President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to the White House. As of Nov. 18, young Michigan voters made up 13% of the statewide vote in 2020, according to CIRCLE, and supported President-elect Biden by a 27-point margin over President Donald Trump. Biden ultimately won my state by more than 150,000 votes. Michiganders and voters across the country knew this election could change the course of gun violence in the United States. Losing was not an option.
In 2018, I joined Students Demand Action, a youth-led grassroots network part of Everytown for Gun Safety. For the 2020 election, my fellow Students Demand Action volunteers and I worked around the clock to help young voters turn out in record numbers, and sweep President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris to victory. We helped to register more than 100,000 new young voters, launched a Summer of Action in all 50 states, and built virtual field offices capable of getting out the vote even during the coronavirus pandemic. We focused our efforts on the very battleground states that helped Democrats hold the House, win the presidency, and elect gun safety candidates up and down the ballot. We texted, tweeted, called, and stood outside of the polls to encourage voters to exercise their right like our lives depended on it — because they do.
The first major news story I remember is the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and six adults were shot and killed. Over the next five years, I became sad, angry, and a little numb to school shootings and gun violence in my community. It wasn’t until I saw a group of students rise up and come together in the wake of another shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that I felt like change was possible — and that I could be part of it.
Gun violence is my generation’s war. More people in America die by guns per year than the number of U.S. service members killed in action in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan combined in the 12 years from 2005 to 2017, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. Every day, more than 100 people are shot and killed in our country, and 200 more are shot and wounded. All the while, the people elected into office to protect us send us nothing but their thoughts and prayers.
Gun violence is also the leading cause of death for children and teens in the United States, according to research from Everytown for Gun Safety, and it takes a disproportionate toll on Black and Latino children. But for decades, too many politicians were content to have the gun lobby write our laws, weakening safety protections and blocking common sense bills even when they had bipartisan support. Enough was enough. So my generation banded together, organized, and voted many of them out of office.
Students Demand Action helped me channel my passion for one issue — gun safety — into national action that will affect the United States for generations to come. In advocating for better gun policy, I have been able to work with like-minded, passionate student volunteers all across the country, helping to engage other young people in the political process while fighting to save thousands of lives that are senselessly lost to all forms of gun violence every year. We were trained and given the tools we needed to take collective actions in our communities across the country, and we achieved real change.
It was not my generation that caused the gun violence crisis, but rest assured, we will be the ones to end it.
Our work has elected the strongest gun safety administration in history. Biden and Harris’ win is a resounding victory for gun safety in America, and it means the United States can act via executive action to tighten our porous background check system, ban ghost guns, and fund critical city gun violence interventions. It’s as simple as this: We can count on this administration to address gun violence and save lives.
And now, we will not stop working to pass overwhelmingly popular bipartisan gun safety legislation, including background checks on all gun sales, strong red flag laws, disarming domestic abusers, and preventing police violence. We will continue to mobilize and show up in statehouses, school boards, and everywhere in between to make sure that our communities are safe from senseless gun violence and protected by common sense gun safety legislation.
President Trump refused to listen when my generation said we were tired of living in fear. So we voted him out, and sent a powerful message in the process: Protect us, or we will replace you.
It was not my generation that caused the gun violence crisis, but rest assured, we will be the ones to end it. We are powerful beyond measure, and we’re just getting started.