While much of the local high school district was on spring break this week, a group of students from Santa Clarita Valley International, a K-12 charter school in Castaic, took part in a peer-led civics lesson to raise awareness about gun violence.
Leo Cameron, a junior who organized the demonstration, addressed a few dozen students gathered in the school’s quad during their lunch break on what Cameron described as the nation’s inaction with respect to its efforts to curb gun violence.
Their demonstration was in conjunction with a national effort at schools across the country, with more than 100 expected to have taken place throughout the nation, all encouraged by Everytown for Gun Safety.
For sophomore Jeffrey Ac-Paredes, like many in the SCV who had family and friends impacted by the 2019 shooting at Saugus High School that left three dead, including the shooter, gun violence was a personal issue.
Ac-Paredes carried a sign Wednesday that said he should be worried about his grades, not guns, while at school.
“I went through a lot of gun violence and I’ve lost a lot of my friends,” he said, declining to discuss specific incidents. “And seeing that I was able to do something really inspired me to try and stop it.”
SCVi Director Chad Powell said that, as long as everyone followed the rules, the pre-lunch demonstration was being treated by the school as “an extension of our civic education — peaceful protests,” he said, pointing out it was student-led.
“It’s real-life,” he said, “and that’s what this school is about: real life.”
Neither Everytown for Gun Safety nor the National Rifle Association immediately responded to requests for comment on the day’s events.
Earlier this week, the nation’s leading gun-lobbying organization claimed a “historic win” on its Institute for Legislative Action site, when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law Monday that made his state the 26th to allow residents to carry a firearm without needing a permit or paying a fee.
Cameron said the nation completely reworked its approach to air travel within a month of 9/11 and has so far prevented any similarly styled attacks, and after COVID-19 had impacted only a fraction of the population, schools were completely reorganized.
Yet, Cameron continued, almost 24 years after what was then called a massacre at Columbine High School, the number of school shootings has only grown, year after year. And now no one calls them massacres anymore.
“Young people are told that we don’t know what we’re talking about, and you don’t have any power. And I think that that is so false. And I think that together, we’re a generation that can make a real change. And we just have to act. I just can’t stand by and watch things happen and say that, ‘Oh, I’m just one person. Nothing happened,’” Cameron said. “Things can happen with just one person because we aren’t one person. We are many.”
Senior Sam Fickett, who organized a similar protest last year at SCVi and said she’d been involved in the cause since the 2018 Parkland shooting in Florida that killed 17, also encouraged students who might be interested to check out Saugus Students Demand Action, which advocates for stronger gun regulations.
Fickett started her comments to the group by saying the shootings were becoming so commonplace that it was hard to keep track of which incident would be the most recent to protest, and that in and of itself is a major red flag.
“It’s getting to be too much,” Fickett said, “and it just keeps getting worse and that’s why we’re here protesting today. Because we’re obviously fed up, and we’ve been dealing with this for years, and we’re tired, and it’s exhausting.”