Why we organized the March for Our Lives in Austin

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The massacre at Columbine High School occurred two months before I was born. In the 18 years since, students across our country — from first-graders at Sandy Hook to undergraduates at Virginia Tech — have had their lives devastated or destroyed by gun violence. I believe that it is time for this madness to end.

In 1994, following mass shootings in San Francisco and Long Island, Congress passed a bill banning the manufacture and sale of 18 specific models of assault weapons as well as magazines that would hold more than 10 rounds. Those who already had these weapons in their possession would be allowed to keep them. This bill received the support of former Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. The bill was passed in both houses of Congress and was signed into law in September 1994.

In the decade that the assault weapons ban was in place (1994-2004), there were 12 mass shootings in the United States that took 89 lives. In 2004, the assault weapons ban was allowed to expire. In the 10 years following its expiration, the number of deaths from mass shootings increased by 239 percent — and this figure does not even include the mass shootings that have occurred since 2014. This is why we are organizing the March For Our Lives Austin. We believe it is time to ban assault weapons for good.

Consider these numbers: 20 first-graders and six adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary school; 32 people killed on the campus of Virginia Tech University; and just last month, 17 killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. And those are just a few of the school shootings over the last few years. We cannot forget those killed at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and a concert in Las Vegas.

These figures haunt many, especially those who have grown up in a culture where guns and schools collide all too often. However, a number of our lawmakers seem to be unaffected by this carnage. They listen to the NRA, who work to squash any legislation that they feel “infringes” upon their interpretation of the Second Amendment. It was Justice Antonin Scalia who in the District of Columbia v. Heller decision in 2008 said that the Second Amendment allowed for American citizens to keep handguns in their homes to protect themselves — not to keep weapons of war.

The utter indifference displayed by many of our lawmakers, specifically those who prefer not to acknowledge or discuss the tragic facts presented above, are why students in Austin and around the country are marching on March 24. We are tired of politicians being bought and sold to keep silent and ignore their sworn duties to protect and defend the citizens of the United States. The status quo will no longer be tolerated and the marches are just the beginning. We must achieve lasting and substantial change that will have a beneficial impact on every student — and every citizen — across our country.

Hefferman is a senior at Austin's Liberal Arts and Science Academy.