March For Our Lives rally in New York, 2018. Photo: mathiaswasik/Flickr
On May 24, yet another mass shooting in the United States left 19 children and two teachers dead. The incident in Uvalde, Texas was just one of more than 300 mass shootings in the US since the start of 2022. In 2021, over 45,000 people were killed by guns in the United States.
The country is living through an “epidemic of gun violence”, says Texan campaigner Ariel Hobbs. At 24, Hobbs is a veteran organiser. She’s been working with March for Our Lives – the grassroots, youth-led organisation that campaigns against gun violence across the USA – since it was formed in 2018, in the wake of the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Seventeen people died that day, and Hobbs was among the groundswell of young people who realised they couldn’t rely on the older generation to make the changes they wanted to see.
“Young people had this belief that the adults around us were going to do what needed to be done to make sure that we were safe. And after the shooting in 2018, we realised nothing’s gonna happen. They’re not doing it. We realised that we have a right to fight for our own safety, and to have the life that we deserve to live,” she says.
The group has gone on to organise massive protests across the US, and in June this year they saw some success as Congress passed the most significant gun control legislation in 30 years.
As a young Black woman, Hobbs says she has to fight doubly hard to have her voice heard. But it is vital that she gives her community a voice, she argues, since “gun violence predominantly affects Black and brown people.”
Speaking on BetterPod, The Big Issue’s weekly podcast, Hobbs talks about the trauma experienced by her generation – and how they’re fighting back.
This is an abridged version of the conversation on this week’s BetterPod. Listen to the full interview below, or at your normal podcast provider.
The Big Issue: Have you had first-hand experience of gun violence?
Ariel Hobbs: I have been one of the fortunate ones that didn’t experience it first-hand with anyone in my immediate family. But I have close friends who have lost parents and siblings to gun violence. One of my closest friends, who I met through March for Our Lives, is Kahlil Darden. He lost his 18-month-old godson to gun violence a few weeks ago.
Growing up, did school shootings feel like a real threat to you?
I grew up in that era when active shooter drills were just being rolled out. The way they’re presented – they’re just wrapped in with all your other drills, like ‘shelter in place’, which is what you do if you have a tornado.
So, I never really paid very much attention to it. I didn’t understand what we were locking down for. Why we had to turn off all the lights. Why was I told I needed to hide under a desk?
Once I got into high school, it all clicked. That was around the time when the uptick in mass shootings in the US began to happen. Reality set in very quickly.
Do you think active shooter drills are effective?
I think they do nothing but give those in charge peace of mind. You can do as many drills as you want – as much as we try, a door will not stop a bullet, a desk will not stop a bullet.
What impact do you think the fear of gun violence has on young people in America?
PTSD. I think 15, 20 years from now, psychologists are going to research students and kids that grew up in this era and understand that there is an added level of PTSD that we deal with. Gun violence has completely changed the way I view safety. My house is the only place where I truly feel safe.
Do you feel anger towards your government and the older generation?
Lots of anger. Right now, there are hearings going on in the US House of Representatives to talk about what happened in the [Uvalde] shooting. Just hearing some of the excuses that are being made, my skin is on fire. Because children are dead. And people are still making excuses.
From a UK perspective, we often think that getting rid of all guns is the answer. Why is that not what you call for at March For Our Lives?
Because we understand that it’s complex. March For Our Lives takes a holistic approach to gun violence prevention. Yes, we focus on legislation. But we also focus on the root causes of gun violence. Research has shown poverty, [lack of] access to health care, access to education – things like that create an environment where gun violence is prevalent. So we want to focus on the conditions that make people want to take up arms in the first place.
What are the barriers preventing people of colour from getting our voices heard?
I would say the biggest barrier is white supremacy. It affects every single aspect of life. I have met organisers that have been a part of the gun violence prevention space for 30 years, saying the exact same things we’re saying now. Yet, because they do not come from the ideal community, they’re not taken seriously. It’s written off as, “oh, well that’s a Black thing, that’s their community, that’s a flaw within them”. Not that this is a flaw within society.