These teens endured unimaginable tragedy when a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2018. It was the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history — and it transformed several of the survivors.
David Hogg, Samantha Fuentes, Emma Gonzalez and Cameron Kasky, among others, emerged as vocal, passionate gun-control advocates who demanded reform and legislation through social media, a political action committee (Never Again), 2018’s March for Our Lives, which drew hundreds of thousands of protestors to Washington, D.C., and a subsequent nationwide tour.
Though Parkland’s Gen Z activists have inspired millions of people across the country and given voice to a majority of Americans who favor stricter gun laws, Hogg says there is nothing special about their school or suburban South Florida community that bred such a resilient group. It’s merely a matter of privilege.
“As much as I would like to think that our experience is solely based off of merit, I think most of it likely comes down to the fact that it’s a predominantly white community that was impacted,” Hogg tells Yahoo Entertainment in a new interview where he was joined by Snyder, Fuentes and Chicago activist Alex King (watch above). “Communities across the country are activated on this. It’s just some get significantly more coverage, unfortunately, than others. And because of that, they don’t get big donors, they don’t get a lot of the time. Or if they do, it’s a highly racialized view of gun violence in America.”
Us Kids portrays the unification of activists from Parkland and those like King in Chicago and Bria Smith in Milwaukee, who represent the daily fight against gun violence in inner-cities across America disproportionately impacting communities of color.
“I feel like when people see this, they’re gonna see that it isn’t just Black or white, it isn’t racial … but it’s us together fighting for a change,” says King. “We all saw something wrong in our country, we all saw nobody was doing nothing about it, so we as children decided to take a stand.”
The issue of gun control remains intensely divisive in the U.S. The activists on the frontlines of the firearms reform debate regularly receive death threats and other threats of violence from extremists who disagree with them.
“I don’t think the fear is anything that you ever really get used to,” says Hogg. “I don’t think you get used to the Marjorie Taylor Greenes of the world following you in the way that she did. [Before her election to Congress, the controversial Georgia politician followed Hogg around the U.S. Capitol in 2019 and berated him over his views.] There are some weird places, psychologically, you go to when you’re trying to justify why you continue doing this despite all of us having gone through so much. … There are people that want to kill us out there. And we’re gonna do everything in our power to try to mitigate and avoid that from happening. But at least in my own case, the way that I always think about it is, ultimately, in the event that I God forbid get shot or killed, they prove my point.”
As also depicted in the film, Hogg in particular has drawn the most pronounced ire from gun rights advocates and right-wing politicians and media figures — far more than other prolific young activists like Gonzalez. Greene heckled him. Other conspiracy theorists called “a crisis actor.” Fox News host Laura Ingraham mocked the teen mass shooting survivor for not getting into colleges he applied to as a high school senior (he currently attends Harvard).
It’s “because they’re afraid of me,” Hogg says. “I can’t think of what other reason it would be other than the fact that I’m a straight white guy and that’s typically the demographic that they to chase after. I guess you could say I’ve been significantly more overt in picking my fights with them at times, though I wouldn’t say I necessarily picked one with Marjorie Taylor Greene or Laura Ingraham to begin with. But I’m not just going to sit back, I’m going to defend myself.”
The now-adult Hogg and company remain resilient in their efforts for gun reform despite a disheartening recent spate of mass shootings in cities like Atlanta, Indianapolis and Boulder, Colo., coming as the nation began emerging from a year of quarantining due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I am enraged, I am disappointed like anyone else,” says Fuentes, who was shot during the Parkland attack and has bullet shrapnel permanently embedded in her legs and behind her right eye. “But I think further, more than anything, it kind of proves a point in a way: which is that complacency kills and just hoping that an issue goes away just doesn’t make it go away.
“It’s a bit trivial at times, what keeps people hopeful. It’s usually the tribe — it’s this, right here, it’s David, it’s Alex, it’s Kim. Otherwise there’s not much else except for each other. We don’t have anything else but a bunch of really scary adults screaming at us [on] a constant basis about an issue you’d think that people would care about.”
Us Kids is now in theaters and on video on demand.
— Video produced by Jon San and edited by Steve Michel
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