After the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 students and faculty members dead and catalyzed a national conversation about gun reform, Omari Allen took a flight down to Parkland, Florida.
Allen, a regional organizing manager at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, began to see a trend among the groups that formed in the wake of the shooting: young, highly motivated students forming grassroots alliances to galvanize legislators into taking action on gun reform. He also realized that these specific teenagers — who hailed from a predominantly white, affluent suburb of Florida — were eager to share the space in the ensuing media blitz with young people from areas that have been historically blighted by gun violence, including Chicago, Philadelphia and Baltimore.
After two more trips to Parkland, Allen, who is only 23 years old himself, returned to Brady’s Washington, D.C., headquarters with a clear mission: give the kids a national platform.
The resultant project, called Team Enough, debuted May 22. The group is backed by the Brady Campaign and headed entirely by a diverse coalition of students — including Parkland survivor Aalayah Eastmond, March for Our Lives speaker Matt Post, Youth Over Guns founder Ramon Contreras and Women’s March youth organizer Kaleab Jego, among others — dedicated to ending the scourge of gun violence in America.
In creating the national platform, Allen told Mic he wanted to find a way to bring together disparate groups passionate about the same issue — regardless of their resources or access to power.
“Especially with students who have interest in communities of color that are regularly impacted by gun violence and people who are passionate about gun violence prevention legislation — some of the things that are kind of hard to do if you don’t have resources — I thought creating some type of national coalition would help them do that,” Allen said.
Earlier this week, the Brady Campaign announced that more than 700 students from 47 different states have already signed on to Team Enough. According to a press release, the group plans to use “data-driven techniques to determine where young voters can have an outsized impact on congressional races in the 2018 elections” in order to “educate and mobilize high school and university students from now through November.”
Matt Post, an 18-year-old senior at Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring, Maryland, and a member of the nascent group’s executive council, said it wasn’t until the Parkland shooting that he began to seriously campaign for gun reform, despite his previous service in education policy as a member of his local board of education.
“Parkland really felt different, like a fever point,” Post said in an interview. “I think that’s why so many kids got involved in that moment... It just became so outrageous that nothing had been done. It felt absurd enough that there was a sense of, if adults can’t get this done, we need to step up and do it.”
Although Team Enough is just getting started — the group is still trying to nail down concrete action plans and advocacy strategies, Allen said — its initial aim is to mobilize young people to vote in November and help elect candidates that will advance its three main priorities: universal background checks for every gun sale, a wholesale ban on assault weapons and the implementation of “extreme risk” laws that temporarily remove firearms from persons deemed potentially dangerous.
As Post is quick to note, these are overwhelmingly popular proposals. A Quinnipiac poll in February found that 97% of American gun owners support universal background checks; further, 67% of all Americans support a nationwide ban on assault weapons, according to the same poll.
“This is not a controversial issue,” Post said. “This is just a case where a small group of extremists are holding back the rest of the country and causing this needless bloodshed to continue.”
Despite the popularity of common-sense gun reform, Post said he and other advocates still catch flak from certain conservatives who would have others believe the students are coming to take their guns.
“I once did a radio show where the first question was, ‘How are you planning on taking our guns away?’” Post said. “I just don’t understand if it’s willful ignorance, or if this is something that conservative pundits are pushing... Nobody is suggesting a repeal of the Second Amendment.”
It’s the same kind of rhetoric many of the Parkland survivors encountered in the aftermath of their rise to national prominence — and Team Enough’s leadership has been repeatedly forced to mount the same defenses.
“I believe that there is a constitutional right to own a firearm,” Post said. “Tons of my friends love hunting and going to the shooting range. You can love hunting, you can believe in the constitutional right to protect your family, but [you should still] understand that a weapon that can kill 17 kids in 5 1/2 minutes has no place in America. That’s not a complex calculation.”
“You can love hunting, you can believe in the constitutional right to protect your family, but [you should still] understand that a weapon that can kill 17 kids in 5 1/2 minutes has no place in America.
Allen has noticed an advantage in bringing together young people nationwide: The teens are members of a generation that is aware of the importance of including different backgrounds and is eager to focus on the communities of color that are regularly affected by gun violence.
“There are certain things that, when it comes to being intersectional, seem to be a bit more prioritized compared to some of our older counterparts who have struggled with that or had to be informed on how to speak or act certain ways,” Allen said.
A majority of Team Enough’s leadership are students of color, many of whom are from the same communities the organization hopes to serve, he added.
“We wanted to make sure we started off from the jump with Team Enough being led by people [who] can speak to this issue and who have that experience and that knowledge,” Allen said.
While the group’s main focus will be amplifying the voices of those who have been overlooked by traditional media, the team will also be mobilized to deal with the incidents that are becoming an alarmingly frequent and normalized part of American life: mass shootings in schools.
Just two days after a 17-year-old student opened fire inside of a high school in Santa Fe, Texas, killing nine students and one faculty member, Post said the Brady Campaign flew him out to meet with survivors — an experience he described as “pretty soul-crushing.”
“It’s hard to return from something like that not feeling overwhelmed and emotional and just in a deep state of despair,” he said. “What was most sad to me was how most of the students I spoke to saw what had happened as an inevitability.”
In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, much has been written about the inevitable fatigue teenage activists may suffer if they fail in their mission to flip districts in the midterms or shepherd in common-sense gun control legislation. Despite those grim warnings, Post said he sees good reason to believe that America’s youth can deliver real, measurable change.
“I think there’s some universality to the American teenage experience, and part of that is optimism,” he said. “I think young people are generally hopeful. And despite all that they had gone through, all the pain and all the needless suffering, [the Santa Fe survivors] were still optimistic that change was possible.”
Post said Team Enough’s first real challenge will be to register, educate and mobilize voters for Election Day in November, as well as make sure that whenever it talks about gun violence, “We’re talking about all gun violence, and we’re elevating the voices of those who have been marginalized or underrepresented.”
“Despite all the odds, I do think change is possible,” Post laughed. “We’ll see if I’m still optimistic on Nov. 7.”