Jenna Stephens—Staff Writer
Deadly bullets marred Valentine’s Day 2018 as 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz attacked the high school he once attended in Parkland, FL. Seventeen individuals died from this massacre, making it the deadliest school shooting since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.
With nearly one school shooting per week since the beginning of 2018, frightening statistics add kindling to the flame of the debate over gun control laws. A group of students who survived the Florida massacre are leading the push for new restrictions and are doing all they can to make their voices heard. Many of the students are 16 or 17 years old. They are left making pleas to voters because they themselves cannot cast a ballot.
The students’ call to action brings up a question beyond the laws themselves. Should these students be able to vote on such topics—in this case, laws which might have affected Cruz’s access to weapons?
Some communities have already given students the right to vote. Takoma Park, MD, was the first city to lower its voting age to 16. A ballot proposition to lower the voting age of city elections in San Francisco recently lost by a slim margin. This push to lower the voting age is often led by student advocates.
Many arguments are made in support of lowering the voting age. Sixteen-year-old Americans can work without limits on their hours. They pay income tax on the money they earn. They can obtain a driver’s license. Some argue that lowering the voting age would help promote civic involvement and encourage voting habits. About 20 different countries allow individuals under the age of 18 to vote. A trend seen in some of these countries shows that 16 and 17-year-olds have better voter turnout than 18 to 21-year-olds.
“Even though they’re in high school and are affected by these situations, it is our job as their adults and authority over them to vote,” said junior Deidra Noteboom.
Of course, arguments in support of this change are met with opposition. Some argue that 16- and 17-year-olds are not cognitively mature enough to make voting decisions. Lowering the voting age would affect consistency of law. For most laws, people are not officially considered “adults” until the age of 18. And when these students turn 18 and are given the right to vote, their fight will likely end unless a new group of teens joins the cause.
“I think the deck is stacked against them,” said criminal justice professor Donald Roth, “but I would never say never. Sometimes things just go viral.”
Roth pointed out that if this “marginalized” group would be able to tap into the social ground swell, they could probably do it.
The 26th Amendment lowered the voting age for federal elections from 21 to 18 in 1971. It rose out of heat from the Vietnam War and the common slogan “old enough to fight, old enough to vote.” Will heat from events like the recent Florida high school shooting bring a decrease in the federal voting age once again? The chances of seeing this change anytime soon might be slim, but students are proving that, even without a vote, they have a voice.
Jenna Stephens—Staff Writer