Aalayah Eastmond, a survivor of the Parkland school shooting, told her powerful story to senators during Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing.
In the months since a gunman ended 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, students from Parkland, Florida have pushed for the passage of a state gun control law, organized a massive march in the nation’s capital, and embarked on a nationwide bus tour.
On Friday, they notched one more milestone: Testifying at a Supreme Court confirmation hearing.
Aalayah Eastmond, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas senior, was one of several witnesses who spoke before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the fourth day of confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, who in 2011 dissented in a District of Columbia Court of Appeals case that upheld the city’s gun registration law and ban on automatic weapons.
Speaking calmly, Eastmond described her experience during the shooting at her school. Hiding under the body of her classmate who’d already been shot. Calling her mom to say her final goodbyes. Police officers later picking body matter from her hair.
“I began talking to God. I told God that I knew I was going to die, I asked to please make it fast,” she said. “I didn’t want to feel anything. I asked for the bullet to go through my head so I wouldn’t endure any pain. I laid there for about 30 seconds still protected by his lifeless body, waiting for the shooter to move onto the next class.”
She ended her story with a plea: for the senators to think of gun violence victims as they weighed Kavanaugh’s nomination.
“As you make your final decision, think about it as if you had to justify and defend your choice to those who we lost to gun violence,” she said.
Eastmond is one of several Marjory Stoneman Douglas students who has translated her trauma and grief into activism, ushering in a new era of anti-gun violence advocacy led by young people.
Young activists have largely succeeded in cementing their stories and perspective in the national conversation, said Sonia Rosen, a visiting research scholar at Villanova University who studies youth activism, because they’ve built a wider movement rather than simply focusing on changing laws, raising awareness through actions like Eastmond’s.
That’s a task that can be difficult for anyone, but can be especially challenging for young people.
“Young people are really only seen as consumers, or they’re seen as objects of our reform,” Rosen said. “And for young people to reject that and say, ‘No, we actually have something to say, we have a very complex analysis to offer and we have strategy and tactics that go beyond what adults have been able to do,’ – is incredible.”
As November’s midterm elections draw closer, that strategy has become increasingly political: Young anti-gun violence activists frequently discuss the need to vote as well as protest.
“Right now we’re in a historic moment,” she said. “Not only are they having a voice at the table, but they’re actually controlling the discourse on gun violence.”
After all the witnesses had spoken, senators in turn asked questions. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut – the state where 26 people died in a 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school – asked Eastmond how she’d respond to Kavanaugh’s opposition to an assault weapons ban.
“My life, along, with the life of all the other youth, is more important than that gun,” she said.
Then, Blumenthal asked Eastmond to describe the real-world impact of an assault weapon.
“That gun ended 17 lives on February 4, that gun ended lives at Sandy Hook, that gun ended lives all over the country,” she said. “He needs to listen to us, because our lives are just as important as any American’s freedom to own a gun.”
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