Tomorrow is the second anniversary of the Parkland shooting. How have the survivors channeled their grief into advocacy? What were some of the tough lessons they had to learn about inclusion along the way? And how do we all move forward as a nation together?
Note: This season of American Diagnosis was originally published under the title In Sickness & In Health.
Celine Gounder: Hey, everyone. This is Dr. Celine Gounder. You may have noticed something different when you saw our show in your feed. We’ve been producing “In Sickness and in Health” for the last three years. But as the show has evolved, we decided it was time for a new name. One that better fits the kinds of stories we’re telling. So, from here on out, “In Sickness and in Health” is going to be known as “American Diagnosis.” New logos and art are coming soon, too. We may have a new name but some things won’t change. You still can expect interesting personal stories and in-depth interviews with experts on some of the biggest health issues facing America. So please tell a friend about our show today and help us keep building this community.
Celine Gounder: OK, now here’s the show.
David Hogg: I do think that we can cut gun violence in half in the next ten years… But we need a massive voter turnout, not just this year, but every year.
Tyah-Amoy Roberts: The people that we should center, who should be speaking on this issue are survivors of gun violence… if we don’t send her those stories, we’ll never have, the true grasp on the impacts of the violence in this country.
Celine Gounder: Welcome to “American Diagnosis,” a podcast about health and social justice. I’m Dr. Celine Gounder. This season we’re looking at gun violence in America.
Celine Gounder:: When you hear the words Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School… or Parkland… or the March for Our Lives…. David Hogg is probably one of the names that comes to mind.
David Hogg: When politicians send their thoughts and prayers with no action we say, “No more!” And to those politicians supported by the NRA that allow the continued slaughter of our children and our future, I say, “Get your resumes ready!“
Celine Gounder:: But before David was speaking to crowds of hundreds of thousands as a founding member of a national youth movement to prevent gun violence… he was a new student from California who didn’t know anyone at his new school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
David Hogg: …because I didn’t really have any friends when I went there, was, I made my camera, um, my best friend because… I found at my school, a real passion for broadcast journalism, and really wanted to pursue that. So that’s what I started doing. I basically just went around the school interviewing students because I, I didn’t really have anything else to do. And my camera was my excuse to be everywhere at any time.
David Hogg: And I did that for the four years leading up to, uh, February 14th.
David Hogg: And on February 14th, I found myself… on a very tightly packed classroom, um, as the shooting was happening and not knowing whether or not, uh, not knowing whether or not we were basically going to make it out of that classroom, to be completely honest with you.
David Hogg: In that uncomfortable situation I did… I did what I always did in any situation where I was nervous or uncomfortable, and I took out my camera. Uh, and in that case, it was on my phone and I started interviewing students.
David Hogg: So, what’s your message?
David Hogg: I basically asked them what, what did they think about kind of like gun laws in the United States? I asked them about what they thought about, like, why this keeps happening. …even one of the students that I talked to is like, yeah, like I was planning on going to a shooting range for my birthday.
[…] Um, I did have plans on my 18th birthday to go to Nexus (sp?) gun range and learn how to shoot but at this point I don’t even want to be behind a gun. I don’t want to be the person behind a bullet because I don’t want to be a person who would put a bullet in someone and to have the bullet pointed at me, my school, my classmates, my teachers, my mentors it’s, it’s just definitely eye-opening to the fact that we need more gun control in our country
David Hogg: …and I figured I would interview students in the case that we did die so that, um, if we did, they couldn’t say what they always say their talking points, which is like, Oh, you can’t talk about this because you were, um, you’re politicizing tragedy.
David Hogg: I wanted those very people to know that like had we died in that classroom, that that is, in fact, the exact opposite of what we wanted. And in fact, what we wanted was to simply not have to die in our classrooms or live in constant fear of gun violence.
David Hogg: …luckily I made it out that day, but, um, thirty-four of my classmates are shot in seventeen of them were killed.
David Hogg: Hearing my sister cry, uh, and being so overwhelmed by that and the fact that she’d lost four friends that day at the age of fourteen made me so uncomfortable because, truly, for the first time in my life as a big brother, there was nothing that I could do to protect her or stop her from crying.
David Hogg: After being in school earlier that day, I went back… I felt a necessity as somebody that knew how the news cycle worked in the first place to go out there initially, not as an activist but as a journalist to tell the story of what it was like going to school that day and not be a talking head on CNN or any of these other major news networks, but to tell the true human story.
David Hogg: I went, and when I was there, I saw some of the cameras and I was like, “Hey, I was at school. Like, do you guys want an interview?“
David on Laura Ingraham show:
David Hogg: I knew that if, if somebody didn’t get out there and immediately tell the story of what happened that day that wasn’t a talking head, that this had basically zero chance of being anything more than two-week story on the news.
David Hogg: I don’t want this to be another mass shooting. I don’t want to be another thing people forget. This is something people need to look at and realize that there is a serious issue in this country that we all need to face. It’s an issue that affects each and every one of us and if you think it doesn’t, believe me, it will, especially if we don’t take action to step up and stop things like that. For example, going to you Congressman and asking them for help and doing things like that. For example, going to your congressman and asking them for help, and things like that.
David Hogg: That’s… that’s kind of what happened that day.
Celine Gounder: That all happened two years ago… And a lot has happened since then.
Celine Gounder: In this final episode of our season on gun violence in America, we’ll hear from David and another Parkland student about how they took control of their own story and started a movement.
Celine Gounder: We’ll hear about some of the mistakes they made…
Tyah-Amoy Roberts: It should have been easier… to have just turned to the black kids that they saw sitting next to them in class, and saying, what do you think about this issue? How can you bring your opinion and your unique experience to the table?
Celine Gounder: And how they’re tackling more than just school shootings…
David Hogg: I think people really need to realize that it’s not going to be solely gun laws that fixes this issue. It’s, it’s going to have to come down to cultural change.
Tyah-Amoy Roberts: Yeah, this is about a cultural shift. We want to, change the way that we think about guns in this country.
Celine Gounder: Today on “American Diagnosis,” the March for Our Lives… and where do we go from here?
Celine Gounder: I think it’s safe to say that David was right when he said he didn’t want this to be just another mass shooting.
Celine Gounder: There were demonstrations…
Celine Gounder: Town hall meetings on cable news…
Celine Gounder: A nationwide student walkout…
Celine Gounder: And a rally attended by hundreds of thousands of people on the national mall.
Naomi Wadler: I represent the African American women who are victims of gun violence… For far too long, these names, these black girls and women have been just numbers. I’m here to say, “never again” for those girls. too.
Celine Gounder: Survivors of the Parkland shooting were able to do something that others couldn’t. They took control of the narrative.
David Hogg: I think the survivors of gun violence talking about it makes it to an extent more real, especially when young people are talking about it
David Hogg: …it’s a lot easier to just dehumanize these things… when people go on TV and talk about it when they’re not personally affected by it.
David Hogg: I think when we don’t understand the stories and gravity behind each one of those numbers, it’s a lot easier for people to just debate these issues and not actually do the, the important thing, which is to do something…
Celine Gounder: The activism that came out of Stoneman Douglas High School energized people around the country to start taking action on gun violence. But in those chaotic weeks and months after the shooting… there were some voices that got lost.
Tyah-Amoy Roberts: …my name is Tyah-Amoy Roberts, but you could just call me Tyah Roberts. I usually just go by that.
Tyah-Amoy Roberts: I’m a student member of the national board of March for Our Lives.
Celine Gounder: Like David, Tyah is also a survivor of the Parkland shooting. At the time of the shooting, she was taking a class at a community college: public speaking.
Tyah-Amoy Roberts: Yeah. I always think it’s kind of funny that I was taking a public speaking course given what I would have to go on to do.
Tyah-Amoy Roberts: I’m really glad that I took that class.
Celine Gounder: Tyah’s parents are from Jamaica and the Bahamas. They came to the U.S. for college and stayed, in no small part because the U.S. was supposed to be a safe place for their family. Tyah says she grew up relatively sheltered. Her mom wanted her to focus on her studies.
Tyah-Amoy Roberts: It’s actually how I ended up going to school in Parkland. She was trying to not have me experience things, like, what I inevitably experienced.
Tyah-Amoy Roberts: …it did hurt her to see that, you know, like, no matter how hard you try, your child can still be faced with this awful reality of having to lose friends and having to run and hide and be on lockdown and have these active shooter drills and things like that.
Celine Gounder: With all the media attention, campaigns, marches, it’s easy to forget the trauma that the Parkland students and other survivors of gun violence still deal with every day. For Tyah, advocating for gun violence prevention has been a way for her to cope.
Tyah-Amoy Roberts: I would say that in the very beginning, it was, like, the only way I knew how to cope. So I was, just like, maybe if I work constantly then I won’t think about it. And that kind of helped for a little while. But… us being able to help each other, and us being able to talk to each other candidly has been so helpful for me, and I hope helpful for them as well., and it just starting the healing process, and, that process allows me to… put more of myself into my activism. So I’m really grateful for the connections that I’ve made while doing this work because it’s helped me cope.
Celine Gounder: But in the beginning, Tyah didn’t feel like she had a place in the March for Our Lives. While the cameras were on students like David and Emma Gonzalez, Tyah felt like there were a lot of voices being ignored.
Tyah-Amoy Roberts: David and I are good friends. We’ve known each other since, uh, before everything happened. So I felt that as someone who I knew …it should have been easier for him as well as the rest of the co-founders to have just turn to the black kids that they saw sitting next to them in class, and saying, what do you think about this issue?
Tyah-Amoy Roberts: How can you, bring your opinion and your unique experience to the table? Because as black students at Stoneman Douglas, we felt as if we were sitting kind of in the middle of a crossroads, as people who had experienced both a mass shooting and… knowing the plight of the black community intimately, when it comes to gun violence. …and we felt that it was doing us a disservice for them to have gone so far out to black communities like outside of Florida, or even just outside of the city, before just turning to us.
Tyah-Amoy Roberts: And so I had a conversation with David and Emma have about that, and they were very receptive, and that’s kind of how I got involved in March for Our Lives, was them being so open and receptive to that feedback and saying, “Okay, well. You have that unique perspective. So let’s, let’s get on board. Let’s talk about how we can make this organization more inclusive.”
Celine Gounder: So why do you think— I mean, it almost sounds like you were almost invisible to them. Why do you think that was? Why do you, why do you think they didn’t think to include you at first?
Tyah-Amoy Roberts: I think part of it is just the way that the media frames things. Of course, the cameras were sitting in David and Emma and the rest of the cofounders, his faces and things were happening so quickly. Um, I don’t necessarily think it’s their fault specifically that… in all of the confusion, um, and how quickly it was going, we kind of were just left in the background when it came to black students at Stoneman Douglas.
Celine Gounder: After Tyah got more involved with the March for Our Lives, she saw that other students around the country had a sense that the group wasn’t for them.
Tyah-Amoy Roberts: A lot of people of color were hesitant to talk to March for Our Lives because they were afraid that much for our lives kind of had this “white savior” complex…
David Hogg: Yes, that’s something that I think we, we certainly have to address…
Celine Gounder: David Hogg.
David Hogg: What we have to do is constantly be working to see how we can improve in listening. … When we recognize the work that black and brown, mainly women have been doing for literally centuries around gun violence prevention and communities, in their own communities and have not gotten credit for it in the first place and acknowledge that.
David Hogg: What we should be doing is asking, “Hey, we don’t. We don’t know how you are affected or your community is affected by gun violence,” but asking like, “What can we do to build and grow together, and how can I help you do that work in the first place?”
Celine Gounder: So the March for Our Lives has been working to cultivate diversity into its leadership and organizing. And it’s helping identify blind spots.
Celine Gounder: Here’s Tyah again.
Tyah-Amoy Roberts: I could even say this about myself, uh, especially because I’ve been so kind of sheltered from the realities of gun violence in this country. … There are some things that I just simply do not think about because I haven’t had to experience them or think about what it would be like if I had to experience them.
Tyah-Amoy Roberts: We also just recently started March for Our Lives Student Congress, which is comprised of students from around the country who have been doing this gun violence prevention work for as long as us or much longer. …and we’re hoping that with that Student Congress, we can start to push forward ideas generated for the most affected communities by the most affected communities. And we’re trying to making sure that all of this change in the national sphere trickles down to all of our chapters, and making sure that our chapters feel diverse so that our grassroots organizers can feel like they have a strong space to be able to advocate for themselves and the people that they represent.
Celine Gounder: Tyah, David, and the other members of the March for Our Lives used that input to come up with something called the Peace Plan.
David Hogg: …we basically reached out to a bunch of gun violence prevention researchers. Um, and said, regardless of political climate, uh, what could we do today to most dramatically reduce gun violence?
Tyah-Amoy Roberts: Right. So we emphasized that this plan was written by young people for young people. Of course, a lot of professionals and policy experts and many adults that have helped us along the way with the March of Our Lives in general had a hand in the Peace Plan. But we wanted to emphasize that the future of this country lies with the young people, and we should have a say in what kind of country that we want to see.
Celine Gounder: The Peace Plan includes many of the solutions we’ve talk about this season: universal background checks and permits to purchase a firearm, violence intervention programs, safe storage, suicide prevention, extreme risk protection orders, requirements to report lost or stolen guns, funding for gun violence research, and more.
Celine Gounder: But it also calls for things we haven’t talked about.
David Hogg: It really comes down to this acronym that we’ve created called CHANGE, where it’s like C, change the standards of gun ownership to create gun licensing and registration.
David Hogg: (H) Halve the gun death rate in ten years… if we can really create a national emergency around gun violence and set an audacious goal, we can do it and save 200,000 lives…
David Hogg: A, accountability for the gun lobby and industry. The fact that the gun lobby is one of the few industries in the United States that is pretty much impossible to sue except for very specific instances is absurd…
David Hogg: N, name or a director of gun violence prevention. So, what we see this as, is kind of like a direct line to the President to talk to them… about like, what, what are the major roadblocks in the federal government’s bureaucracy and how, how can we streamline them and change them?
David Hogg: G, generate community-based solutions to fully fund violence intervention programs…
David Hogg: And then lastly, Empower the next generation through automatic youth voter registration for every 18-year-old in the United States.
Celine Gounder: The March for Our Lives released their Peace Plan in August 2019, right as the Democratic presidential primary was heating up.
David Hogg: …part of its purpose is to basically pressure, hopefully, pressure presidential candidates… we want them to create a comprehensive plan to address gun violence should they not support the Peace Plan themselves…
Celine Gounder: Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke endorsed the Peace Plan. He made headlines with a call for a national buyback of the rifle used in the Parkland shooting: an AR-15.
Celine Gounder: But a few months later… Beto suspended his campaign.
David Hogg: Sadly since seeing him drop out, there a major opportunity for some of the Democratic candidates to pick up that torch of gun violence prevention again and talk about it significantly more.
David Hogg: Basically, we need the presidential candidates, and I would hope in the Democratic field at least, and even if Donald Trump wanted to come up with his own gun violence prevention plan. I would hope that they’d do that. And realizing that 40,000 Americans dying annually should not be seen as a political issue. It should be seen as a threat to the future of our country because it is.
Celine Gounder: As of this recording, no other candidates for president have endorsed the Peace Plan.
Celine Gounder: Why don’t you think that none other than Beto, you know, that none of the other candidates have really been very outspoken on this issue?
David Hogg: to be honest with you, the, the reason why other candidates have not endorsed the Peace Plan, it’s because… they love using the Parkland kids as tokens.
Celine Gounder: For example, over the summer, the March for Our Lives held a voter registration event in Iowa. It was called the Dance for Our Lives. Several Democratic candidates sent video messages of support, but none showed up in person.
David Hogg: I can tell you, it really bothers me when I hear presidential candidates, or really any candidate for anything, say like, you know, “I support those Parkland kids, but not support the Peace Plan.” …they’re basically tokenizing us as young people. …if you’re not willing to be bold when 40,000 Americans are dying annually, can you really call yourself a leader? That’s my question…
Celine Gounder: Voter registration and outreach is a big part of the March for Our Lives’ Peace Plan.
David Hogg: I do think that we can cut gun violence in half in the next ten years, I truly do. But we need a massive voter turnout, not just this year, but every year…
David Hogg: And to do that, we have to create a lot of organizing behind the scenes, and we need people to support March for Our Lives and other gun violence prevention organizations that are within your own local community that have been doing the work for decades on the ground and can do a lot more if they were just given a little bit more resources in the first place. So, yeah, definitely support March for Our Lives. Come to our protests when we have them and if you want to know more information or be in the loop around what we’re doing you can go to MarchForOurLives.com.
Celine Gounder: I asked Tyah at the end of our conversation if she had anything else she wanted to say:
Tyah-Amoy Roberts: Yes, this is kind of a message to our voters. And even if you’re not old enough to vote yet, this is a message for you as well.
Tyah-Amoy Roberts: This Peace Plan was made so that you can have something to give to your legislators. When they ask, you know, “What do you want from me? What do you want me to do?” I want them to advocate for a safer America… and the way that they can do that is by endorsing the Peace Plan for a safer America.
Tyah-Amoy Roberts: And I think it is so important for you to call your legislators, write to your legislators. Go to their doorsteps, plan meetings with them. Do not stop until they either endorse the Peace Plan or come up with a comprehensive gun violence prevention plan of their own. …Don’t ever think you are too young to go out and knock on doors, and let people know that this is one of the most important elections that we’re ever going to have, not only because of the presidency but because there’s so much potential for us to change the dynamic of our Congress, change the culture around young people not being engaged. There’s so much potential here, and I just want us to all tap into that and remember that going forward.
Celine Gounder: So, here we are. The final episode in our season on gun violence. I didn’t start off planning to over thirty episodes on this topic. I was just overwhelmed by how much there was to say about it.
Celine Gounder: But after dozens of interviews with experts, activists, and survivors of gun violence… there’s one idea that I kept coming back to. It was a moment in my conversation with David Yamane. He’s a professor at Wake Forest. Here it is:
David Yamane: We really have two different social worlds as concern guns. We have people for whom guns will never be a problem, and we have places and people for whom their only experience of guns is as a problem.
Celine Gounder: Think about the stories we heard in this episode from the Parkland survivors. I don’t think there’s a Second Amendment argument that’ll change the way Tyah and David feel about guns.
Celine Gounder: But the mass shooting they experienced, the thing that moved them to start a national movement, didn’t move someone like Kevin Creighton, a gun-rights supporter I spoke with earlier this season.
Kevin Creighton: I understand the passion, I understand the fear. Of course, I do. I have a 12-year-old and 14-year-old. My wife’s a teacher. I’d be a moron not to understand the fear of school shootings. It’s a very valid and honest fear to have. But to sit there and say that the NRA is the problem, the world’s largest firearm safety training organization, is the reason why people are using guns unsafely, that’d be like saying Mothers Against Drunk Driving, going out and boycotting AAA.
Celine Gounder: Kevin isn’t pro-gun violence. He doesn’t think students should be dealing with school shootings. But for people like Kevin, guns and the NRA aren’t the problem.
Celine Gounder: Here’s David Yamane again:
David Yamane: I think that one of the challenges we have as a society in talking about guns is that people just experience guns in different ways. So, most of the people I know experience guns as law-abiding gun owners who use guns for legal purposes, to have fun, to connect with their family, to connect with their friends. And so they really have a difficult time understanding the reality of guns in another community in which the only experience people have with guns is negative, right? That they’re used in crime, they’re used to terrorize people. People are direct or indirect victims of gun violence, and because those two social worlds can be so far apart, then we have a tremendously difficult time understanding one another when we try to talk about this is the reality of guns.
Celine Gounder: This is the startling thing about guns in America. We can’t even agree if there is a problem in the first place. Some people think gun violence is a national emergency. Others think guns are essential to our freedom. And neither camp has much respect for the other.
David Yamane: Well, I think it definitely pushes the one side away. There’s polarization in both ways because there is a good sizable minority of people within gun culture who look down on anybody who wants to propose any restrictions on firearms. And so, I think that’s emblematic of our political system overall right now, is that it’s really being driven by people on the polls on either side when in reality most of the people are somewhere in the middle.
Celine Gounder: So, how do we bridge those two worlds in your opinion?
David Yamane: Well, I might be up for some kind of humanitarian awards if I could figure out how exactly to do that. But I know in my own personal life I try to take opportunities to speak with people with whom I may not agree about guns….
David Yamane: I think that if there were ways we could think about doing the things I try to do as an individual, on a more systematic basis, you know, that might have some potential for increasing people’s understanding, and it wouldn’t necessarily immediately translate into action. But I think that the understanding could create a basis for action at a later time.
David Yamane: …if there were more of an effort towards empathy in both directions, I think that we would make more progress. The less we can do to try to stigmatize one another, either for our pro-gun or anti-gun views, I think the better off we’ll be as a society because guns are a reality. There are more guns than people in America, so we’re not going to be getting rid of guns anytime soon. We need to figure out ways of living with guns and living with each other in a better way than we have, at least in recent years.
Celine Gounder: You may have noticed that I haven’t used the term gun control once over this thirty-six-episode season. I think that kind of terminology is a big part of our communication disconnect.
Celine Gounder: Gun violence prevention and gun safety are goals we strive for, and they aren’t synonymous with gun control. Gun control is one approach to preventing gun violence.
Celine Gounder: Over the course of this season, we’ve talked about the science behind a whole range of solutions to gun violence. Some of these solutions involve regulating guns and access to guns, and some don’t. Some are better suited to the national or local levels, and some to certain regions. Or populations. Or types of gun violence.
Celine Gounder: When we formulate all solutions to the gun violence problem as gun control—an error committed by both sides of the debate—we make it hard to find common ground. We make it hard for everyone to agree that gun violence is a problem because we’re forcing them to buy-in to one narrow set of solutions.
Celine Gounder: For example, why do some people refuse to believe in climate change? There are many reasons for this, but one reason is that in the minds of many, believing in climate change means cutting jobs. But what if we offered a wider menu of solutions and detailed the science behind them?
Celine Gounder: Or take, for instance, entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. Those of us working in health care and the insurance industry, among other sectors, are well aware of the impending “Silver Tsunami,” demographic shifts resulting in many more older people relative to the number of young working people in this country. That’s going to have huge implications for the solvency of entitlement programs. If I acknowledge this is a problem, does it mean I think we need to eliminate Social Security and Medicare? Of course not. There’s more than one solution to the problem.
Celine Gounder: But we can’t come up with solutions if we can’t even agree there’s a problem. And that’s where our work must begin.
Celine Gounder: In our next season, you’ll get a special treat. As some of you know, I wear a lot of hats… one of which is working with TEDMED, the medical branch of the TED talks. I’ll be at TEDMED in Boston in March, and I’ll be interviewing a few of this year’s speakers. We’ll bring you those stories and more in a special season on health equity coming out later this spring.
Celine Gounder: “American Diagnosis” is brought to you by Just Human Productions. Today’s episode was produced by Zach Dyer and me. Our theme music is by Allan Vest. Additional music by The Blue Dot Sessions.
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Celine Gounder: I’m Dr. Celine Gounder. This is “American Diagnosis.”