A Maryland high school student whose family moved to Bethesda after a mass shooting at her father’s former workplace will serve on the national advisory board for a gun violence prevention organization.
Jeannie She, a high school senior at Walt Whitman High in Bethesda, was one of the 16 student leaders chosen to serve on the National Advisory Board for Students Demand Action, a movement for young adults to fight against gun violence and an arm of Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the country.
“I’m overall just really excited to have this position, and I continue to be empowered by numerous student leaders and other volunteers in this movement every single day,” She said in an interview. “I cannot wait to be able to make even more change on this national level.”
She’s interest in gun violence prevention advocacy began last year, when her family was directly affected by the May 31 shootings in Virginia Beach, where she grew up. That day, she got a call from her father telling her that there was an active shooter near his office job.
Only after her father safely got out of the high-risk area and arrived home did She realize that the shooter had been in his building, firing at his colleagues. A public utilities employee opened fire at his co-workers on multiple floors of the Virginia Beach Municipal Center and a total of 12 people were killed, including the gunman. Some of the victims were the same colleagues that She’s dad had been in a meeting with that morning, She said.
“It’s really hard to wrap my mind around the fact that it was just a typical day for me, going to school and my dad going to work and by afternoon, some of his colleagues were lying dead in the corridors of his office building,” She said.
This led She to get in touch with youth activists in her town and organize rallies against gun violence that summer. “I had a new fiery passion to focus my attention and my efforts on gun violence prevention because I have such vivid memories of May 31 that no one should ever have to experience,” she said. In her efforts, She met a student who introduced her to Students Demand Action.
“To have gun violence impact my own community is a very different type of world-shaking event that I don’t think anyone can really imagine until it happens to them,” She said.
It was the reason She and her family moved to Maryland that summer. She resolved to begin a Students Demand Action chapter at whatever school she ended up at, which was Walt Whitman High School. She will continue to lead the chapter at her high school until she graduates.
Last year, her chapter engaged in a letter writing campaign for bills in Congress and the state legislature and educated their peers about different aspects of gun violence, such as domestic violence, suicide and school shootings. All have different roots and thus require different policies, She said.
In February, She helped organize a bus to take more than 50 high schoolers to Annapolis, where they spent the day speaking with lawmakers about supporting several bills, including one which would have required a background check on all shotgun and rifle sales and another that would have required the governor to include at least $3 million in the annual budget for violence prevention programs. Both passed the General Assembly, but were vetoed by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) in May.
High school students also lobbied for a bill that would have banned so-called ghost guns and another that would have expanded the definition of a “regulated firearm” to include the guns that were used in the Dayton, Ohio, shootings, but those two bills failed in the legislature.
She’s local Student Demands Action chapter also held an event called Ribbons for Parkland, in which they sat in front of Walt Whitman High School and handed out thousands of orange ribbons to students and teachers on the anniversary of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in February. “It was really moving to walk down the hallway and see flashes of orange no matter where you looked,” She said.
As a member of the National Advisory Board, She will help hold bimonthly meetings to strengthen leadership skills of other local leaders across the country. One initiative She has been thinking about is a “big-little” system, in which experienced student leaders partner with new leaders to help them in whatever obstacles they encounter as they establish a new local chapters.
Students have a unique perspective on the gun violence prevention movement because they are the youngest generation that grew up alongside the growth of the gun violence epidemic, She said. “It is almost numbing to us to continue to see these headlines appear time and time again,” She said.
Gun violence prevention remains a top issue for young voters, and Students Demand Action has been reaching out to newly turned 18-year-olds to encourage them to register to vote and support “gun sense” candidates. Recently, Students Demand Action achieved its goal of registering 100,000 new voters and is now turning its energy towards campaigning for specific candidates up and down the ballot, She said. “If these young people are registered and get out the vote, we have the power to decide the outcome of the 2020 election,” She said.