It’s two days before the March for Our Lives in Washington and across the U.S., and Sabine Stock is waiting to learn if any of her friends will go with her. At 16, the sophomore at Eleanor Roosevelt High School on New York City’s Upper East Side and her classmates count among the millions of students who attend school in the era since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. For them, in addition to spending their days with the three Rs, there is one big F: fear. “I’ve been doing lock-down drills since before I can remember,” says Stock. “I do have the fear that something like that is going to happen to me and it’s really scary.”
Her concern mirrors that of her peers who are anxious about their safety, according to a fresh poll on gun violence conducted by USA Today/Ipsos among 1,112 young American ages 13 to 24. The poll revealed that four in 10 youth cited crime or gun violence as their top concern, with half of teens aged 13 to 17 selecting this as their top worry over other concerns like racism, healthcare and social or income inequality. Adults tend to rate the economy, healthcare and terrorism as top concerns.
For some young people, their fear is tangible. According to the new poll, a quarter of youth think that a classmate will bring a gun to school and 15% think that there will be a shooting their school. One in five high school students and 17% of middle school students don’t feel safe at their school. Four in five of the those age 13 to 17 said they have had a serious talk with a parent or guardian about dealing with a gun at school.
While policymakers and lobbyists debate ways to prevent school shootings and other gun violence, young people who are most affected by it want action. Most want active shooter drills but they overwhelmingly reject the idea of training and arming teachers.
Chris Jackson, vice president, US, Ipsos Public Affairs, says that many of the answers from young people in this survey are similar to what adults said in earlier studies. In recent months, Ipsos has provided a wide look at gun-related issues in surveys of gun owners and NRA members, youth, and the general public.
Of course, there are areas of disagreement. In earlier surveys with adults, 60% think gun control will stop mass shooting and young adults aren’t as sure, which Jackson says “reflects a certain fatalism about our ability to stop these mass shootings. It’s sad that this is the world that they’re growing up in.”
And a child shall lead them
Spurred by surviving students of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, more than one-third of the youth surveyed said they plan to protest about gun violence and gun control in marches or on social media.
As the issue has been front-and-center in the public’s attention many policymakers and pundits have been quick to dismiss outspoken students’ knowledge of guns and the issues. Jackson notes that adults aren’t much more knowledgeable than the young people, according to Ipsos’ ongoing polls with NPR about American policy.
“Most Americans aren’t knowledgeable about policy so asking a 15-year-old to know it isn’t actually true for who we are as people,” says Jackson. “Second, you don’t have to be knowledgeable about policy to be scared.”
Teens and adults agree
He also said that most adults are on the same side as young people when it comes to guns, including most gun-owners. A separate poll Ipsos conducted for Buzzfeed in early March found that most gun owners, and even in many cases gun owners who are members of the NRA, support increased gun safety measures banning “bump stocks,” and raising the minimum age for purchasing semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15. Most gun owners support raising the age of ownership to 21 for all firearms.
“I owned a handgun for many years and I support the Second Amendment,” Jackson says, “But firearm ownership is a responsibility in addition to a right. One of the main takeaways from all of our survey research is that that is a pretty commonly held opinion. Most Americans support gun control and support the right to bear arms. The country isn’t divided on the issue; most people agree with the idea of sensible restrictions on gun ownership.”
That adults are trying to shut down young people’s arguments plays into Stock’s motivation to march this weekend. “You hear the students speaking out and it’s really inspiring but you’re also hearing people trying to silence them and put them down,” she says. “I see what’s going on and the lack of action being taken toward gun violence and I feel like especially as students, we need to make our voices heard and fight for what — it sounds cliché — but for what we believe in.”