Students across the country are significantly affected by the shooting that devastated Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, because we know the same terror can easily happen to us in our own schools, even in New Jersey.

As a high schooler, I never want to know what it is like to see my friend shot, my teacher take a bullet, or the arrant horror of everyone else. I go to school so I can learn and I should not have to worry about someone rampaging with an assault weapon. The Parkland school shooting is eye-opening to all of us. Now we see how easy it is for any high school to be ravaged with gun violence.

Our country needs significant changes in our gun laws. We need to ban bump stocks, a mechanism that transforms guns into machine guns. We need to ban assault weapons, and keep them away from civilians. We need stronger background checks to make sure criminals, terrorists, the mentally ill, and others who cannot be trusted with a gun are far away from firearms.

If we do not implement these simple solutions, we will continue to see more horrific mass shootings across the country like the ones in Parkland, Sandy Hook, and Las Vegas. I am not against responsible gun owners carrying safer guns, I am just against bad guys with killing machines. There is so much change that needs to be done and it is imperative to our safety.

The idea that gun violence is primarily a mental health issue, or that teachers should be armed, are diversions rooted in the NRA’s significant influence over government. Donating tens of millions of dollars to politicians, the NRA buys the Congress it wants. Politicians choose money over protecting the American people, and it is shameful.

The NRA deceives Americans with the argument that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun, and as a result we need deregulation. The issue with this argument is that background checks still would allow responsible gun owners to carry guns, and not every good guy is going to be comfortable carrying a weapon anyway, especially in a village like Ridgewood. Also, there was an armed guard at the school in Parkland, further discrediting the NRA’s argument that you need a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun. Deregulation would give more bad guys more guns, and the NRA supports it because it would be making more money.

The NRA does not represent gun owners, but gun manufacturers, whose goals are to sell as many firearms to Americans as possible regardless of how harmful it can be to society. Congress chooses the NRA and big money over the American people, and as a result Americans have to take our safety into our own hands.

As they hear people call for stronger gun control to prevent mass shootings, NRA-backed politicians have been saying that this is not the time for a gun-control debate, but rather for thoughts and prayers. At the end of the day, however, thoughts and prayers do not change anything and have not been changing anything. There were thoughts and prayers after the Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Las Vegas shootings, and we still see mass shootings.

This is the time for Congress to pass gun-control legislation, because if it does not, ordinary Americans will continue to die. We cannot allow that to happen. We need change.

Students across the country have been organizing school walkouts for March 14 from 10 a.m. to 10:17 a.m. That is a minute for each Parkland victim. The goal is to honor the Parkland victims, to advocate for stronger gun control, and to feel safe in our own schools.

In Ridgewood High School, I have been working with students, teachers, and administrators on organizing a school walkout.

I created a groupchat with a couple of students from Glen Rock and Westwood who also were planning school walkouts on March 14, so we could collaborate and share ideas. It was very constructive and beneficial to be hearing what students in other schools were planning, and we thought it was important to try to involve as many schools in Bergen County as possible in our collaboration of ideas. We are constantly reaching out to contacts in other towns, recruiting walkout organizers across Bergen County. As of this writing, there are students from 11 high schools involved in our Bergen County walkout collaboration, covering 17 municipalities in Bergen County including Allendale, Bergenfield, Closter, Demarest, Fair Lawn, Glen Rock, Haworth, Ho-Ho-Kus, Lyndhurst, Oradell, Ramsey, Ridgewood, River Edge, Saddle River, Upper Saddle River, Washington Township, and Westwood.

Last week, I was at a meeting at the home of a senior from Westwood Regional High School, sharing Ridgewood’s walkout ideas and strategy. We are working intensely on planning a countywide rally on March 24. (See our Facebook page: Bergen County Walkout.) The type of community we are building across the county is friendly and is uniting Bergen County in a cause we passionately believe in.

At my school, Ridgewood High School, we have been seeing incredible support. Last week, we were able to use the loudspeaker to announce a school walkout planning meeting in one of the classrooms during lunch. What happened was amazing: there were so many students and teachers in the room that people had to stand in the hallway. We have a Google classroom page for the walkout, and it already has about 70 people. The support is enormous, and it reveals a powerful message: people care about gun violence and their safety, and that people are able to devote their time and effort to create change.

These nationwide walkouts will wake up NRA-backed politicians to what Americans want, and they are an essential effort in our push for common-sense gun legislation.

This network of high schools activists encompassing (as of this writing) 17 municipalities in Bergen County is not just a network, but also a movement. These networks are also forming in other counties in other states across the country. High schoolers, most of us still unable to vote, are perceived as a silent demographic, but we are making our voices very clear.

We are a grassroots movement; a movement of teenagers who passionately care for their government, their towns, their people, and their country. The American people are mobilizing to the point that teenagers are strategizing together on how to make our country a safer place. Although we are enduring a gun violence crisis in our country with an ineffective government, our ability to mobilize as a nation is like no other.

Regardless of any chaos, the United States of America is still the greatest country in the world.

Laurence S. Fine is a ninth-grader at Ridgewood
High School.