After Uvalde, Utah’s March for Our Lives wants to drive a generational change on gun policy
When 21-year-old Ellie Otis heard about the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, she, like so many others, felt a pit deep in her stomach.
“The fact that they are just babies this time around. I myself am young,” she said. “But to lose your life at that age, in such a brutal way, to be torn apart by bullets and your parents have to identify your remains. No child should have to even think about that happening.”
It was at the forefront of her mind, though, when she got involved with the March for Our Lives movement in her Utah high school in 2018. It was right after the Parkland shooting that left 17 people dead.
“I knew that this isn't going to be the only [shooting] this week, nevertheless, in my lifetime, and I need to be a part of doing something,” she said.
Otis is one of the organizers for the June 11 march at West High School where they will march, once again, for gun reform. It’s part of a nationwide demand for gun legislation.
People, she said, are tired of the lack of action from politicians and their “thoughts and prayers” after each incident. That’s when she reminds herself that change happens slowly.
“Every time I hear the number increasing, I think, ‘What are we even doing? There's no point. This isn't going to change.’ But then again… I think that being at the age where we finally have power to vote. But we're getting into law school. We're becoming interested in political jobs and positions — we're replacing the old generation. I feel like that's where it comes in, where I genuinely do believe that change is happening,” she said.
She stressed the importance of voting politicians who’ve failed them out of office. That will be a big emphasis of Saturday’s march, where they’ll also be registering people to vote in the June 28 primary.
The one thing that’s made her a little more hopeful is that some politicians, namely Democrat Beto O’Rourke of Texas, are standing up to Republicans and the NRA on this issue. She also pointed to Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, and his bill to raise the minimum age for gun purchases in Utah, and Salt Lake City’s gun buyback program.
Elizabeth Clement, associate professor of history at the University of Utah, has studied social movements like the Civil Rights. In 2018, Clement was more optimistic about the possibility of real change as she saw the teens take center stage after Parkland. This time around, she’s doubtful.
“I don't know how much the March for Our Lives activism is really going to help with the issue of gun violence, not because children's activism is ineffective, but because all of our activism feels ineffective right now,” she said. “Because we really do have a major political party that has turned against democracy itself.”
Otis said now is not a moment in time, rather it’s a movement and it’s going to take time.
“The moment versus the movement in itself is saying no. Sandy Hook, Columbine, the Las Vegas shooting all of these, you know, it's not just this one moment in gone — it's all of these moments that are making up the movement,” she said. “We are saying, we have not forgotten the lives that were lost. We have not forgotten the legislation that was not passed. And we will continue to push forward for this.”
The march starts at noon on June 11, 2022, at West High School and goes until 3 p.m.