Preventing gun violence doesn't mean taking guns away from responsible owners. It requires a multifaceted approach that includes gun-law reform and community-based interventions, David Hogg told students at Middlesex Community College in Lowell on Wednesday.
Hogg, a gun-violence prevention activist and survivor of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2018, described the tragedy that took the lives of 17 people and how the harrowing incident led to his current path of activism.
The March For Our Lives co-founder said the issue has "earmarked an entire generation."
"Our generation has to be the one to stand up with the current generation in power because if we don't, there will be no future generation," said Hogg, 18.
Hogg, who will attend Harvard University in the fall, said Massachusetts has the lowest rate of gun violence in America, with about three firearm deaths per 100,000 people. He attributed that to the laws in place in the Bay State, including an extended permitting process that requires safety training and extreme risk-protection orders that allow judges to suspend gun licenses for anyone deemed to be at risk of harming themselves or others.
Hogg said he hopes to spread the Massachusetts model to other areas of the country.
He said the National Rifle Association has constantly lobbied for weaker gun laws to the point that toy guns are more regulated for safety than actual guns in some places.
But young people can create change if they believe in it and organize, he said.
"The only thing that has changed the world is a small group of determined individuals that take on an issue -- to address it at every level, to address every person affected no matter where they come from, what they look like or who they are but simply because they are a human being that need not suffer in a country that claims to be the greatest country on Earth," Hogg said.
He called on MCC students to pressure Congress and run for political office themselves, because representation of every demographic matters.
"We need to make sure that the mayors of our cities have a youth council that actually represents us and cares about the students within the city," Hogg said to applause and cheers from the audience.
Hogg said intervention programs in schools, hospitals and other institutions have proven to reduce violence and gun deaths and to keep young people out of the cycle of incarceration. In urban areas, especially, the vast majority of people who shoot somebody else have been shot before, and hospital-based interventions have played a big role in reducing retaliatory violence, he said.
Hogg also called on the media to stop repeatedly sharing the faces and names of mass shooters and deny them the fame they seek. He said the media must understand and try to course-correct its role in perpetuating harmful stereotypes, about the perpetrators of shootings, the communities suffering from violence and those working to overcome it.
"The importance of a shooting should not be determined by your ZIP code," Hogg said.
MCC Student Union Government Association President Morgan Mayo and Lowell Campus Vice President Sonma Agundu said they were moved by Hogg's speech and passion.
Mayo, an 18-year-old Littleton resident, said she remembers sitting in high school last year when the Parkland shooting occurred and thinking, "it could have been any school."
"I think what he's doing is incredible, and it's the voice we need for our generation and more to come," she said.
Agundu, an 18-year-old Lowell resident said youths should all stand up against gun violence.
"If we feel compelled to stop something, we should get a group of people and start something," she said. "It's all about having our voices to be heard."
Earlier in the day, Hogg spoke with professor Ron Brevard's Interpersonal Communications in Criminal Justice class, where he brought up many of the same points in a more direct dialogue with students. The lively discussion included many challenges to Hogg's statements from students with different viewpoints about guns.
Luke Levesque, 20, of Nashua, N.H., spoke about his training with guns and their value in self-defense and the defense of others, and their usefulness in fighting back against a tyrannical government.
Hogg said he used to hold similar views about violent revolution, but has found evidence that non-violent revolution is significantly more effective and longer-lasting.
Hogg is also scheduled to speak at The Bull Run Restaurant in Shirley on Sunday, March 3 at noon. That event, which was postponed from an earlier date due to weather, is sold out.
Follow Alana Melanson at facebook.com/ alana.lowellsun or on Twitter @alanamelanson.