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Five years after Parkland shooting, gun control advocate at UVa reflects

The shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 and injured 17 others five years ago Tuesday inspired one University of Virginia student to begin advocating for stricter gun laws politically and youth awareness of gun violence nationally.

The shooting at UVa three months ago that killed three and injured two others has reminded her of the work left to be done, she said.

“It was sad and frustrating, because I felt like I had devoted a lot of time in my life to preventing gun violence and to trying to spread the ideas that show how much harm guns can cause in our community,” second-year student Karly Scholz told The Daily Progress on Monday. “To have it touch so closely to my community reminded me why I’m doing this work.”

Scholz is a youth council member of Project Unloaded.

Rather than focusing on preventing gun violence, Project Unloaded’s mission is to “create a cultural narrative that guns make us less safe,” according to its website.

Scholz joined Project Unloaded in the summer of 2021 as an organizational intern. Today, she creates social media content and advises the organization’s non-youth leaders on the ways that Gen Z perceives and interacts with firearms as well as the ways that gun violence affects their everyday lives.

“I’m inspired by this new approach that Project Unloaded is taking,” Scholz said. “Of course legislative change is a part of ending gun violence in this moment, but it’s not the only thing we can rely on to solve this crisis. I think Project Unloaded’s goal of getting young people to change their minds organically on this issue and really change how guns are portrayed in the media is a really huge part.”

Most recently, Scholz has been working on the organization’s Safer Not Using Guns, or SNUG, campaign, which educates young people about gun violence and gun risk through social media.

Scholz began advocating against guns and for stronger gun control laws after the Parkland shooting in 2018, when she was a 14-year-old freshman in high school.

On Feb. 14, 2018, Nikolas Cruz, who was 19 at the time, opened fire on students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. It remains the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history.

“That was the first mass shooting that really resonated with me,” said Scholz. “I was too young to understand what was happening in Sandy Hook. I wasn’t born during Columbine.”

After the shooting, she said she immediately joined the local chapter of March for Our Lives, a national, student-led organization which has pressed legislators to enact universal background checks on all gun sales, close the gun show loophole, restore the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban and ban the sale of bump stocks in the U.S.

Bump stocks, which allow a semiautomatic firearm to shoot more than one shot with a single trigger pull, were made illegal on March 26, 2019, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Student survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School organized and led the first March for Our Lives, originally a protest attended by thousands to end gun violence via intentional legislation. The original march inspired 800 sibling marches and sprouted 300 additional chapters around the country.

The campaign has faced strong opposition from the National Rifle Association lobbying group. An NRATV host has said the student-led campaign is “backed by radicals with a history of violent threats, language and actions” – a statement fact-checker PolitiFact has called a “ridiculous claim” and “without merit.”

While March for Our Lives continues to fight to change the laws, Scholz said that her work and the work of Project Unloaded is to fight to change the culture.

Scholz said that the gun violence conversation is too politicized.

“Guns make us less safe and more guns equals more violence,” Scholz said. “The best thing we can do is to make sure that we change the cultural perception that guns are this tool to protect us, because they’re not.”

And she said she believes UVa can be the fertile ground where that change is planted. After all, the university has not only been the scene of brutal gun violence but also community organizing in its wake.

Scholz said she was in the university library during the overnight manhunt for the shooter who opened fire on a bus full of students returning from a field trip, killing student football players Devin Chandler, D’Sean Perry and Lavel Davis Jr. and injuring two other students.

She watched as university Grounds became a place for the students, faculty, staff and the greater Charlottesville community to mourn together and dream of a safer future.

While Project Unloaded has a broad and national focus at the moment, Scholz said the youth council and organization leaders have discussed spreading and concentrating SNUG and future campaigns to college campuses such as UVa in the future.

“I don’t want to feel that or go through that again,” Scholz said. “And I don’t think anyone should.”


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