A New Generation’s Political Awakening

Hundreds of students gather at the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., on Friday to protest gun violence, part of a national high school walkout on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.

Emily Nakano began doing lockdown drills when she was in second grade.

“An alarm plays over the PA system, and we lock the door, turn off the lights and hide in a corner away from the window,” she explained.

The high school senior from Illinois said she’s grown up with a fear of school shootings in the back of her mind, even though she’s not scared of guns. In fact, she’s been around guns her entire life.

“The first time I was behind a gun I was maybe 3 or 4,” said Nakano. “I remember early years going to the gun range with my family. I think the first time I shot totally independent was probably when I was 10 or 11.”

So, even though Nakano says she shoots as a hobby, she participated in a walkout at her school earlier this year calling for stricter gun laws because she says something needs to change.

After the shooting in Parkland, Florida, students across the country began demanding new gun laws. They’ve held protests and rallies, culminating with the most recent school walkouts this past Friday, on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting.

These gun violence protests seem like a pivotal political moment for this new generation of soon-to-be-voters. They’re often described as Generation Z, defined by the Pew Research Center as people born after 1996.

The question is how much of an impact the gun issue will have on them as they age into the electorate. Experts who study voting behavior say it’s far too early to predict how much this moment will define Generation Z, but they point to the fact that events that occur when we’re young tend to have an outsized impact on shaping our politics as we get older.

Nakano, 18, voted for the first time this past March in the Illinois primary. She chose the Democratic ballot even though she said she thought she was a Republican growing up.

“It’s so extreme right now, I need to get involved,” she said. Her vote was not strictly about guns or gun safety. But that was part of her decision.

“There definitely needs to be more done about gun laws,” she said.

And Nakano’s not alone: 64 percent of 18-29 year-olds want stricter gun laws, according to recent polling from the Harvard Institute of Politics. That’s 15 points higher than after the 2012 Newtown, Conn., school shooting.

Harvard Institute of Politics Spring 2018 Youth Poll conducted March 8-25, 2018, with 2,631 respondents age 18 to 29. Spring 2013 poll conducted March 20-April 8, 2013, with 3,103 respondents age 18 to 29.

“Gun control is now the symbol of all things that young people really despise about Washington, D.C.,” said John Della Volpe, director of polling at…

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