Who are the #NeverAgain teenagers pushing for US gun control?

From an impassioned speech calling out politicians to a hashtag creator, these are the Florida students and names behind the renewed push for gun control in the US.

Young survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting have impressed the world with their eloquence as they grab the banner of the fight to end gun violence in America. 

Cameron Kasky started the slogan #NeverAgain, David Hogg is now a target of an online smear campaign and Emma Gonzalez moved many in the country with her cry: "Shame on you!"

Who are the fresh-faced leaders of the #NeverAgain campaign to demand stricter gun laws, an issue that sharply divides American society?

Their leaders include 'Never Again' hashtag creator Cameron Kasky, Emma Gonzalez who gave a fiery speech hitting out at politicians receiving money from the National Rifle Association, David Hogg who filmed interviews with schoolmates during the shooting and their classmate, Chris Grady.

Cameron Kasky

The 17-year-old has been described by the New Yorker as a "theatre kid" and calls himself the "class clown."

On February 14, the day of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Mr Kasky addressed pro-gun advocates with a scathing Facebook post: "I'm safe... Thank you to all the second amendment warriors who protected me."

Two days after the massacre that left 17 dead at his school, Mr Kasky created the hashtag #NeverAgain, urging his supporters to make it go viral, which it did.

Perhaps his most high-profile moment came on Wednesday when he confronted US Senator Marco Rubio of Florida at a CNN "town hall" event broadcast on prime time. 

Appearing relaxed and confident, the teen confronted the one-time presidential candidate, who has received funding from the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) pro-gun lobby: "Senator Rubio, can you tell me right now that you will not accept a single donation from the NRA in the future?"

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Cameron Kasky speaks at a rally for gun control at the Broward County Federal Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale.
Source: AAP

Emma Gonzalez

"Shame on you!" the 18-year-old declared at an anti-gun rally on February 16th, berating US President Donald Trump and other politicians who accept money from the NRA. 

Her fiery speech captured national attention and spurred a nascent movement bringing together student survivors, parents, teachers and other activists.

Ms Gonzalez, whose family has roots in Cuba and is easily recognisable with her shaved head, had written the speech just hours before and her only previous activism was participating in last year's March for Science.

She and her cohorts called for a March for Our Lives in Washington on March 24, saying: "You're either with us or against us at this point." 

The march has since raised at least $2 million in funding from Hollywood A-listers including George and Amal Clooney who is a human rights lawyer, talk show queen Oprah Winfrey, director Steven Spielberg and his actress wife Kate Capshaw, and film producer Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, gathers with people at North Community Park in Parkland, Florida.
Source: AAP

David Hogg

The 17-year-old aspiring journalist took refuge in a closet during the school massacre. Despite the terrifying circumstances, his instinct led him to film interviews with his fellow students while in hiding. The video went viral.

Hogg was recruited by Kasky to help lead the #NeverAgain movement.

But his experience in recent days lays bare the politicization of the issue. Hogg's father is a retired FBI agent and right-wing conspiracy theorists believe the agency is behind a shadowy campaign to bring down Trump. 

The teen has been attacked and harassed online, and even accused of being a "crisis actor" paid to travel to tragedies to propagate liberal viewpoints.

"I am not a crisis actor," Hogg said. "I'm someone who had to witness this and live through this and I continue to be having to do that. I'm not acting on anybody's behalf."

David Hogg talks about his experiences at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High on 15 February when a gunman opened fire.
Source: AAP

Delaney Tarr

The 17-year-old was among hundreds of Florida students who descended on the state legislature this week to demand gun control laws.

"We've had enough of thoughts and prayers," she said. "We are coming after every single one of you and demanding that you take action."

She is among a generation of young Americans who grew up in an era of school shootings, and always carries around her car keys, with the idea that she could hunker down inside the vehicle in such a situation.

When it actually happened, she ended up hiding with her classmates in a closet.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Delaney Tarr speaks at a press conference in the Florida state Capitol in Tallahassee.
Source: AAP

Students walk out

Across the country sister movements are emerging to support the Parkland students, such as Student Walkout Against Gun Violence, which is organising protests under the Twitter handle @studentswalkout.

"Everyone wants to take action and make change in this country," the account creator, a 19-year-old California college student who asked to remain anonymous arguing that the story is not about her, said.

"If you don't want to take action you haven't watched the videos," she said, referring to the images shared by the students while gunman Nikolas Cruz, 19, was on the shooting rampage at Stoneman.

A new dawn?

Last year 58 people were shot dead at an open-air concert in Las Vegas. In 2016, 49 people were slaughtered at a bar in Orlando, Florida. In 2012, 20 elementary school children and six adults were shot dead at the Sandy Hook school in Connecticut. In 2007, 32 college students were killed at a Virginia university.

In all of those cases, urgent calls for tougher gun control proved fruitless, but experts believe the teens now have a chance at making a real political impact.

What makes Parkland different?

Dana Fisher, a University of Maryland expert on US social protests, notes the student movement comes at a time of heightened political activism following Donald Trump's election, which reignited a culture of political protest starting with the historic Women's March the day after his inauguration.

"Everybody in this country is way more politically involved than they've ever been before," she said.

"As a result, people are paying attention to politics like they haven't before, including children."

A second key factor - the tech-savvy millennials from Stoneman, many of whom are preparing for college, are unlike the children from Sandy Hook, who were too young to speak for themselves.

Nor are they unrelated victims like in the Orlando and Las Vegas shootings.

"They were all students at the same high school and so many of them know each other personally," Prof McAndrew, an expert on mass shootings.

"We are hearing from the victims directly and we are hearing from them with one unified voice rather than many scattered voices."

Their familiarity "and the ease with which social media is integrated in their lives also gives them an edge when it comes to organising and communicating with each other, as well as with the world at large", he said.

Furthermore, the Parkland kids "are affluent and therefore empowerment is real", former mass shootings consultant to the FBI J. Reid Meloy, from the University of California at San Diego, said.

"They are energised by their suffering and grief and channeling the emotion," he said.

"They are not intimidated by the older white males in politics and the NRA. They are tired of the passivity of being a potential victim."

Published 22 February 2018 at 11:54am, updated 23 February 2018 at 12:53pm
Source: AFP - SBS