Vander Graaff: High School students aren’t represented in the voter population

Abby Vander

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

This weekend at the TedxCSU event, one of the talks given addressed mass shootings when a CSU student shared their own personal experience with a school shooting in high school.

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Everyone knows that there’s a problem in this country with school shootings, but nobody has taken time to break it down. The truth is, the only people who are concerned with this issue are students and their teachers — and they aren’t responsible for gathering statistics. They usually aren’t keynote speakers at political rallies. The majority of them aren’t even allowed to vote.

In the face of political elections, especially with the City of Fort Collins local elections coming up in April, we should reflect on how our democratic system works, and how it doesn’t. We could mull over the needs of our public school students, but many will not — an increasingly common theme in our politics is the reform of gun legislation. If high schoolers were represented in the voter population, maybe this topic and policy would have more traction.

If high schoolers could vote, maybe gun laws would be different.

The amount of school shootings that occurred in 2018 is unclear. One nonprofit organization called Everytown claims that so far gunfire has been reported on school grounds 76 times. CNN notes that there had been 23 incidents over the course of the first 21 weeks of the year.

But try searching for the number of school shootings in 2018 on Google. The results are ambiguous.

We seem to be hearing more about shootings every day. Deaths in a church and in a bar in California. For school shootings, first it was Columbine. Then Sandy Hook. Then Parkland, and Santa Fe, and many others.

Yet there was nothing related to gun control on the ballot in November mid-terms, and no legislation is planned for the future. And even if there were, high school students at best are only represented by their teachers and their parents.

Students can speak out, they can attend political rallies and write letters, but because they cannot vote, politicians have no incentive to listen.

Parents don’t have to regularly participate in lockdown drills, and wonder if they are drills or not. They don’t have to go through their daily routine wondering if the next school to fall into violence will be their own.

A nationwide Newsela survey shows that 67 percent of high school students either agree or strongly agree that United States gun laws should be stricter, and 12 percent had written a letter to a congressperson on the topic.

Students are scared. We all hear stories of school shootings- how nobody saw them coming, how before the first shots were fired, the day proceeded as normal. Students worry that, on any given day, they will be thrown into a fight for their lives.

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Many students who are concerned about gun control are doing nothing. And the ones who are see little success. Students can speak out, they can attend political rallies and write letters, but because they cannot vote, politicians have no incentive to listen.

According to National Center for Education Statistics, about 15.1 million students are attending grades 9-12 this fall. On a matter of life and death, their needs are absent in our voter population.

This doesn’t change the fact that high schoolers just aren’t mature enough to vote. The United States voting age is set at 18 for a reason. High school students are not adults, and therefore should not have to partake in an often times hostile political atmosphere.

But students have made it clear that they shouldn’t become victims of violence, either. In March 2018, both Colorado State University and Rocky Mountain High School students participated in March For Our Lives, a nationwide protest led by students that called for stricter gun laws. 

Students can stand up for themselves, but still nothing has changed. Their lack of representation in politics is exemplary of a much larger and more broken political system, in which minority groups — in this case minors — will never win over the majority of of voters.

But maybe there’s hope.

Unlike previous generations, CSU attendees of the present experienced high school under the same political atmosphere as current students. We can hope that students remember their fear after they graduate, and let it influence how they vote in the future.

Abby Vander Graaff can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter at @abbym_vg.