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Mountain West Teens Speak Out On Guns

This Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people are expected at rallies for gun control across the country. And no one is speaking louder than those who inspired the rallies and who feel they have the most at stake: teens.

Thea Roland is a high school junior in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She’s into reading, modern dance, and politics.

She thinks the activism in response to the Florida shooting is amazing.

“I’m online,” she says. “I can see that stuff is happening.”

And she feels part of it too. Last week, she walked out of class and locked arms with hundreds of her peers to honor the victims of the Parkland shooting and to send a message to the world, she says about gun control.

Roland is passionate about this.

“We matter more than guns!” she says. She feels like she and other kids her age shouldn’t even have to say that. “But we’re trying to say that loudly. And with force.”

She says she’s frustrated that school shootings keep happening and that elected officials aren’t passing laws to change that. She wants them to pay attention to the message she and other teens are delivering.

Speaking directly to congress she says “It is your job, literally, to make this a safer happier world. There’s a lot more to be done and that’s your job. That’s your job.”

But she’s not necessarily counting on Congress either. Roland is only 17 years old, but she says this movement might factor into what she does with her future.

“I want to stay angry enough to do something about it,” she says. “Because obviously if my generation is the only one that’s pushing for this then we have to be a lot stronger than we are even now. We have to keep going.”

For now, though, the march this weekend is a start and Roland is happy that people are speaking up. “It’s my generation!” she says. “We’re doing something! We’re mobile. And it’s fantastic.”

Like Thea Roland, seventeen-year-old Ryley White, a high school student in Boise, Idaho, didn’t plan on becoming an activist.  

She says it angers her that the responsibility has been passed down to her generation to “fight for the right to go to school.”

White has been thinking about gun violence for a long time. It was Sandy Hook that opened her eyes to the reality of school shootings.

“I honestly feel like Sandy Hook was my generation’s 9/11,” she says.

She remembers she was sitting in her language arts classroom and her teacher walked in, tears running down her face and told White and her peers about the students that had been shot and killed at Sandy Hook.

“I remember exactly what I was doing,” says White. “I remember exactly how I felt. I remember the rest of the school day everybody could not stop crying.”

White was just thirteen at the time.

She says something like Sandy Hook is hard to think about because she’s so close with her family. “Especially my little brother,” she says, “who is still in elementary school. Thinking about that happening is the most terrifying thing that I can think of. Losing my family is just heartbreaking.”

White’s state of Idaho has one of the highest per capita gun ownership rates in the nation. White says even though she’s never personally touched a gun, she doesn’t feel like she’s missing out on a cultural experience.

She acknowledges that many people have a passion for hunting and they need guns for that. But she says, “my life is no less fulfilled or lacking in any way by not seeing or owning or possessing a firearm.”

White says she respects her fellow Idahoans’ right to have guns. But she’s hoping lawmakers will respect American students’ rights to be safe in school.  

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.


Copyright 2021 KRCC. To see more, visit KRCC.

Thea Roland in Colorado Springs, Colorado
Ali Budner /
Thea Roland in Colorado Springs, Colorado

Ali Budner is KRCC's reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, a journalism collaborative that unites six stations across the Mountain West, including stations in Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and Montana to better serve the people of the region. The project focuses its reporting on topic areas including issues of land and water, growth, politics, and Western culture and heritage.
Amanda Peacher is an Arthur F. Burns fellow reporting and producing in Berlin in 2013. Amanda is from Portland, Oregon, where she works as the public insight journalist for Oregon Public Broadcasting. She produces radio and online stories, data visualizations, multimedia projects, and facilitates community engagement opportunities for OPB's newsroom.
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