On February 14, 2018, a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 students and staff members and injuring 17 others. The event had a galvanizing effect on students throughout the nation, prodding them to march, rally, and organize large-scale events to raise awareness and demand action on the issue of gun control.
One of those students is 15-year-old Laurence Fine of Ridgewood.
“We’re being slaughtered,” Laurence said. “Ninety-six Americans are killed by guns every day. “We are in danger in our schools.”
So Laurence, who goes to Ridgewood High School, is involved in the gun control movement “to make a difference, better our community and our learning environment, and keep Americans safe.” It’s been a gradual evolution for him. After the 2016 election, Laurence became more “politically aware — but it was after Parkland that I became involved.”
First came the school walkouts.
The first one took place on March 14, a month after the shooting. It was a national initiative, and Laurence helped organize the event at his school, which ultimately involved more than 1,000 Ridgewood students. A second walkout, on April 20, took place in Washington Square Park in Manhattan. Laurence was part of a group of students from Lyndhurst, Ridgewood, Hillsdale “and across the county”; he also was a speaker there.
Next came the “March for Our Lives” movement. The student-led demonstration in Washington, D.C., on March 24 in support of tighter gun control measures generated hundreds of similar events throughout the country.
“I started talking to people about this and got connected to people I needed to speak with,” said Laurence, who organized a march in Hackensack. “Josh Gottheimer” — the freshman Democratic congressman representing New Jersey’s 5th District, which includes Ridgewood — “and Steny Hoyer” — the Democrat who has represented part of Maryland in Congress since 1981 — “came and spoke. There were thousands of people. It was a powerful event.” The march was advertised through social media and by word of mouth, and “happened organically,” Laurence said; he delivered the opening remarks there. He was “more excited than surprised” by the turnout at the march, “a really amazing event.”
To keep up the momentum and continue pushing for gun reform, Laurence, who helped create the group Students Demand Action Bergen County, organized a town hall meeting at the Unitarian Society of Ridgewood. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., the Democrat who represents New Jersey’s ninth district, which includes parts of Bergen County, were the main speakers at the meeting, which drew some 150 people.
“We had a conversation about gun violence prevention and what’s going on in Congress,” Laurence said. “They talked about what they’re doing and what they support. The focus was on Congress and on policy.”
He is happy with the position of his own elected officials, but “unfortunately, that’s not enough,” Laurence said. “We don’t have enough people in Congress who want gun safety measures,” or who will endorse legislation proven to be effective.
“New Jersey has good gun violence prevention laws: stricter background checks to make sure guns stay away from criminals, terrorists, and other people who shouldn’t be trusted with guns, ending the gun show loophole, where you can get one without screening, and [dealing with] 3-D guns,” he continued. “If we don’t continue to stay strong on this issue, people will be able to print their own guns from blueprints from their home.” These guns are untraceable and can be brought into airports and seaports. “They can get through security like a piece of plastic — which they are.”
Most recently, Laurence has been involved in the issue of voter registration. On September 15, Students Demand Action Bergen County will join other student activists from dozens of high schools in Bergen County to talk about voter registration “and get out the vote,” he said. “We plan to initiate as many voter registration drives in as many high schools as we can to register as many voters as possible.”
The meeting will be held at the Puffin Cultural Forum in Teaneck and feature New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg of Teaneck as well as Bergen County Clerk John Hogan. “The initiative is completely nonpartisan,” Laurence said. “We want to empower youth, not tell people how to vote.” He noted that more than four million Americans will turn 18 this year. “Some people in high school will become eligible to vote for the first time. We’re grasping this opportunity to get students involved, energized, and register them to vote.
“Change always starts when people rise up together,” he said. “Perhaps an individual isn’t as powerful by himself, but when we join forces, we can accomplish so much more. That’s what we’ve been doing in all these towns. We know that when we work together, we can accomplish so many things. Change is in our hands. We need to unite.”
Laurence, a son of Rabbi David and Alla Fine and the older brother of Ariel, grew up in Ridgewood, where his father is the rabbi of Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center. His passions include track and field. Inevitably — after all, his father is a rabbi — he is more exposed to Jewish teachings than most kids his age.
“My Jewish background and set of Jewish values push me to get involved to help other people, to make a difference, do good things for society, and make our country a better place,” he said. Because of his father, “I get to see Jewish values from a different perspective.
“I’ve always been involved in the stuff my father is doing,” he said. “We live in the same house.” For example, he has become involved with Ridgewood’s Community Peace and Justice Forum. His outlook, he said, transcends the interests of any one group. “Gun violence affects people of all races and religions. It’s a universal issue that affects every community in this country. It’s an American issue, and it should be nonpartisan.
“It’s a threat to our country and we’ve had enough. That’s why we’re organizing meetings, rallies, protests, and everything we can do to make a difference.”