Gun Control — Advocates and Activists

Rights guaranteed in the First Amendment and the Second Amendment have limits. The Supreme Court has decided some of the issues surrounding these rights, but many, such as gun ownership and use, remain for citizens, states and Congress to address.

By mid-March, nearly 650 children had been injured or killed by gunfire in 2018. Among the deceased are 17 students and faculty from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Their classmates and student leaders used Snapchat, Twitter and Facebook to remember them and to call for Never Again MSD.


Protest is the American way. From the Boston Tea Party to sit-ins at a Woolworth’s lunch counter. From the Freedom rides to the 1963 Children’ Crusade when students as young a six encountered police dogs and fire hoses. After the Valentine’s Day shooting of 17 students and faculty at their Parkland, Fla., school, students added their tweets and voices to those of other activists. They organized a March for Our Lives. In this guide, we look at the rights of student protestors during and after school, on and off school grounds.


The places where mass shootings have taken place — Columbine, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, a church, a movie theater, a workplace — join the gun-related homicides, suicides and unintentional, random shootings across America. Advocates for gun ownership and rights face activists who want gun reform. The many suggestions for gun reform stimulate debate. Debate that is contentious, contradictory and costly.


The First Amendment guarantees an open exchange of ideas and protects the individual’s rights of conscience. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes expressed this idea: “I think that we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country.”


After the talk, the condolences, the headlines, what will have changed? “Mass shooting, school shooting, playground gunfire or stray bullet,” wrote Petula Dvorak in “For D.C. teens, gun violence is old news.” “All of it is too much. And it’s time for the adults to listen to the kids — all of them — no matter where they live.”



MARCH 2018

On Weapons
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Introduce the First Amendment
English, Government, Journalism, Media Arts, U.S. History

Americans will lose their rights if they do not know they have these rights and they do not practice these rights. Likewise, students do not lose their First Amendment rights at the schoolgate. Online sources that provide accurate and concise information on the writing of and application of the First Amendment include: Student Press Law Center, and the First Amendment Schools Q&A.


In addition to introducing the First Amendment, introduce students to the Supreme Court case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District.

Questions that students should be able to answer include:

• What five rights are guaranteed by the First Amendment?
• What does it mean to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances”?
• Do students have First Amendment rights?
• How may students' First Amendment rights by limited?
• To what extent do students have the right to protest during school hours?


Introduce the Second Amendment
Civics, Journalism, U.S. Government, U.S. History

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The meaning of this Amendment for today’s society is not self-evident and has been the subject of debate, court cases and regulations. Online law and research sites such as Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, the Constitution Center, Find Law and the Library of Congress provide concise background on the Second Amendment from influences on the Founding Fathers, court cases and resources for further reading.


Teachers might form four student groups with each given a different one of the above resources. Groups are to read, discuss and summarize the material. Teachers should review the online resources; they vary in depth and detail, though all give basic information.


After reading and discussion, students should be able to answer these questions:
• Why did the Founding Fathers include the right to bear arms?
• Before 2008, what was the primary view on individual ownership of firearms?
• Why did the District of Columbia ban handguns and require that firearms in homes be disassembled or trigger-locked?
• What was the decision in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008)?
• What has triggered current debate on gun control and ownership?


Introduce Gun Basics and Gun Control
Civics, Journalism, Media Arts, U.S. Government, U.S. History

Teachers may begin by asking students if they own a gun or have used a gun. Have them share their experiences with firearms. Some schools have student gun clubs and rifle teams; perhaps the adviser or a member of the club could be interviewed by your students.


There are several resources to introduce students to guns. Al Tompkins, a gun owner since he was 13 and journalist, has a very accessible article that may be used with students. Read and discuss “What journalists need to know about guns and gun control.” He explains differences in guns, covers state legislation and gives a brief history of gun control. Note that there are several links to websites with more in-depth information.

Protests and Rights
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Examine a Word
English, Journalism, U.S. Government, U.S. History

How a word is defined can make a significant difference, especially if it deals with data.

“Mass shooting” is one of those terms. The source of numbers can force a Fact Checker into overtime. Read "Obama's inconsistent claim on the 'frequency' of mass shootings in the U.S. compared to other countries."


Word Study this month focuses on who and how “mass shooting” is determined. Read and discuss “The squishy definition of ‘mass shooting’ complicates media coverage” by Callum Borchers. Include "homicide" and "double homicide" in your discussion. After discussion with students, teachers may ask students which definition they prefer or to define the term. 


Read an Editorial Cartoon
Art, Journalism, Reading, U.S. Government

Tom Toles is The Post’s editorial cartoonist. Read four of his visual commentaries on gun ownership, reform proposals and NRA influence. Discussion questions are provided for Taking Aim at Gun Issues.

Graph the Data
Art, Journalism, Mathematics, Reading

Reporters often need to include numbers and data in their articles, but words may not be the best way to convey this information. Data journalists, mathematicians and news art staffs are asked to take raw data and communicate it in an accurate and understandable format: bar or line graphs, pie charts or maps with text. Editorial writers conduct interviews and do research to support their positions. Read and discuss two Post editorials: "America's deadliest shooting incidents are getting much more deadly" and "The lives we've lost in mass shootings — again." Compare and contrast how the writers have used data.


Teachers may use the Informational Graphics Collection in January 2008 Post curriculum guide, Informational Graphics to introduce the different types of graphics used by media. We have included "1,077 victims" that may be pasted together to create a poster example of an illustration graphic.


Give students the student activity, From Data to Graphics. Students are provided data and the sources of data. After reviewing the material, they are asked to prepare the appropriate informational graphic to convey the information to readers.


Review the Gun Control Options and Actions
Civics, English, Health, Psychology, U.S. Government, U.S. History

Even after state legislatures have passed gun-control and school security measures, the action may be challenged. Florida provides an example of National Rifle Association challenges. Read “NRA sues Florida over plan to put age limits on rifle purchases.” 

Discussion could include:
• List the regulations that were signed into law by the governor of Florida in March 2018.
• What did it take to get these regulations passed and signed in Florida?
• What are the NRA arguments for challenging the regulations?
• What have been past federal court actions?
• What state-level restrictions on guns has the Supreme Court allowed?


Conduct a Q&A: Your School Policy on Weapons
Character Education, Civics, Health, Journalism, U.S. Government

What student conduct policy does your school system have to govern the possession, use or sale of firearms on school property? Find and read the state or district policy. It may begin similar to this: “Carrying, bringing, using, or possessing dangerous instruments in any school building, on school grounds, in any school vehicle, or at any school-sponsored activity on or off school property is grounds for disciplinary action.” Discuss each section  with students to see what they understand and what is unclear to them.

Teachers, especially journalism teacher-advisers, might invite the principal or assistant principal to meet with your class for a Q&A.


Give students “Conduct an Interview: Your School’s Policy on Weapons and Dangerous Articles.” Review this activity with them. If your students have not conducted interviews, you may give them “Interview Tips.”


Students may be asked to write an explanatory article, newscast or special investigative report to inform other students about the policy and practice in your school regarding weapons and other dangerous articles on and off school grounds. If your school has a broadcast program as well as print journalism class, encourage them to participate with your class.

Read About Activism and Weapons

Organize with Like-Minded People
Character Education, Civics, U.S. Government, U.S. History

The National Rifle Association is the largest advocacy group for the shooting sports and Second Amendment rights. Since its inception it has been committed to marksmanship training; after WWII, the NRA added education and training in the hunting community. In 1960, it added the NRA Police Firearms instructor certification program. NRATV live streams and has many videos to download. It is a major lobbying group.


Learn About gun reform organizations that exist on the local, state and national level. Some organizations began after personal experience with gun violence; these include the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Americans for Responsible Solutions. Some groups, such as Sandy Hook Promise, have been organized by parents who lost their children by gun shot.


Other groups such as Everytown for Gun Safety are created by Americans who share the goal of ending gun violence and building safer communities. Formerly, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, it is now a coalition with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense and survivors of gun violence incidents. The Violence Policy Center and The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence focus on research, investigation, evidence-based legislation and advocacy.


"Research, Speak, Protest" will give students background and direct research on the different perspectives on a Second Amendment issue. Many students will use social media to share their points of view. Discuss the potential for success after reading “With gun campaign, students might discover limits of social media.”


Do Student Protesters Have Rights?
Character Education, Civics, U.S. Government, U.S. History

Review the resources listed in the second sidebar, Protests and Rights, in order to review the rights of students to protest during school hours and on school grounds and what administrators may do. The Student Press Law Center provides more direct guidelines to the student media on covering walk-outs and protests


The most recent movement was begun by students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas H.S. in Parkland, Florida. These students used their voices on television and social media. They bused to Tallahassee, and others traveled to D.C. to talk with legislators. They created a Twitter presence: #Never Again. And they organized, with much support, March for Our Lives to be held in Washington, D.C., and sister cities on March 24, 2018. The Post's conservative blogger offers tips to march organizers. Read "Five suggestions for the 'March for Our Lives' organizers." Covering the students' actions and responses to them requires the best journalistic practices to remain unbiased and objective.


Play a Role
Character Education, Debate, Health, U.S. Government, U.S. History

Another approach to learning about different points of view on gun reform, student protests and exercising one’s First Amendment rights is to hold a role play exercise. Give students “Role Play: Student Activism on Gun Violence — When the First Amendment Address the Second Amendment.”


Teachers may assign students the roles or students may select different roles. If there are not enough roles for your class size, teachers may assign two students to take certain roles. Students and teachers may work together to determine the exact focus of this exercise: Students want to hold a walk-out on campus, students want to join a city-wide protest that is being held during school hours, government teachers want to hold a city-wide town meeting on school safety and guns, and some other topic of meaning to your students.


Teachers may ask students to record what stand they think this role will take on the selected issue. The Washington Post articles and other sources are provided for each role. Students are to read them and use to add to points they might present.


After the role play exercise, ask students to write about their own position on the topic. Did someone during the role play influence them to strengthen their stand, modify their view or to change their point of view? Explain.


How Have Students Protested?
Character Education, Civics, U.S. Government, U.S. History


What forms of protest have students taken? Brainstorm historic examples. For more recent times read about the Children’s Crusade, lunch counter sit-ins and the wearing of black armbands to protest the Viet Nam War. “Down for gun control” tells about current student protests against gun violence.  “Student activism spreads in region” reports on D.C. area school students’ response to gun violence, including staging a 17-minute walk-out in memory of 17 lives lost.


Discuss the potential of these approaches to awaken awareness and to gain support for gun reform: Writing letters to the editor and to members of local officials; visiting offices of local, state and national legislators; using social media; and holding walk-outs. Are more visible displays such as lie-ins, walk-outs and displays of empty shoes for every child killed by gunfire more effective?


Can individuals make an impact on passing legislation that is opposed by powerful lobbies?


Take Note of Lives That Made a Difference
Character Education, English, Reading, Social Studies

1. Read short bios of “100 People Who Changed the World.” In addition, photographs, quotations and suggested books for more in-depth study. Students might be asked to select one of the individuals, read, summarize how and why selected. What qualities did each have? Compile a list. Think of people whom they know who share one or more of these qualities.


2. The influence that people have is not always found in headlines or movements. The Smithsonian Magazine in November 2005 ran a series of 35 Who Made a Difference. Begin with Yo-Yo-Ma. NOTE: This are not linked so teachers will need to do a search for “35 Who Made a Difference” on the website. Students might be assigned different individuals and be asked to summarize the life and reason they think the Smithsonian editors selected them.


3. Meet Ten Women Who Made a Difference. They happen to all be Canadian; get to know our neighbor to the north. As a member of The Toronto Star’s editorial board said, they “changed the way we think about Canada.” You may accompany reading this article with a 2018 children’s book, She Persisted, by Chelsea Clinton


4. Activists Who Made a Difference in 2015 using social media. Ten Latino who used social media to address issues and social injustice. After reading the short profiles, what issues did they address? In what way did they influence others?




Post NIE Guide Editor & Writer | Carol Lange
Post NIE Guide Art Editor | Carol Porter

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In The Know 

Active shooter Immediate notification of police that shooting is taking place; after the Columbine H.S. shooting and confusion in responding, U.S. law enforcement agencies changed procedures and protocols for stopping “active shooters.”

First Amendment guaranteed “the right of the people to assemble peaceably”; The Fourteenth Amendment applies this promise to state governments

Bump stock Device used on a semi-automatic weapon’s recoil to allow it to fire repeatedly at a rate closer to that of a fully automatic weapon
Double homicide Murder or the unlawful death of two victims by one perpetrator 
Going postal  

Shooting at the workplace; based in 1986 killing of 14 and wounding of six in a post office, the deadliest of several attacks by current and former postal employees


Homicide Killing of one person by another, regardless of intention or legality; person who kills another

Unable to be taken away from or given away by the possessor; also spelled unalienable

Mass shooting

Indication of a shooting involving more than two person. Different organizations use different criteria to define “mass shooting.” Mass Shooting Tracker [] defines it as the number of people shot instead of the number killed. In the 1980s, the FBI defined “mass murder” as “four or more victims slain in one event in one location,” and the offender is not included in the count. SEE Word Study for more details.


Petition  First Amendment guaranteed right to formally ask the government to remedy or address a wrong 
Protest Statement or action expressing disapproval of or objection to something; dissent, public display of opposition; public protest is related to right of assembly
Right  Legal or moral entitlement to have or obtain something; in constitutional law, rights are classified as natural, civil and political 

First Amendment guaranteed right to express one’s views without fear of imprisonment or other actions against an individual; protected speech is not without limits

ANSWERS. Tom Toles: Taking Aim at Gun Issues

A. February 23. 1. A science teacher; 2. Assault weapon, refers to the suggestion of President Trump and others that trained teachers should carry concealed weapons in schools to keep students safe and to deter gun attacks; 3. A science teacher’s “experiment” being target practice (with many students within range), the day’s subject: “heat” and “packing” which in slang is carrying a weapon of some kind (packing heat); 4. The NRA calls for school “preparedness, prevention, mitigation and recovery” which includes trained armed employees. According to The New York Times, police officers in the nation’s largest city — men and women who are highly trained and periodically tested for firearms proficiency — hit their targets only a third of the time. During actual gunfights, the paper reported, officers’ accuracy drops as low as 13 percent. 5. Answers will vary.

B. February 25. 1. National Rifle Association (; 2. Wayne LaPierre or NRA representative and a high school student; students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas H.S. have called for more gun control measures; 3. Answers will vary, but is more in keeping with Toles’ view that measures controlling gun access are needed; 4. Student lives have been lost and others injured; 5. Encourage students to write a statement and then illustrate to communicate it.

C. February 27. 1. Elephants are the icons representing Republicans; since they are wearing suits and voting, they are likely members of Congress; 2. This refers to raising the age at which someone can purchase a gun; 3. If only one could legislate the age at which someone will be the victim of a gun shot, whether by accident or random shooting or an attack on people gathered in public or private places;  4. Answers will vary; 5. Answers will vary.

D. February 28. 1. President Trump; in the original, it was the individual shooting at students in the Parkland, Fla., high school; “huff” may refer to the physical condition of the president or a reference to the big bad wolf; 2. See video at; 3. When with NRA representatives, the tough talk (“take them on,” “I’m not afraid of them”) changes to tacit agreement; 4. So little real action against gun access and the “massacre” seems to have not fully educated our leaders and members of Congress to apply any lesson learned and act with effective laws and funding for effective response; 5. Answers will vary.

District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

Principles of U.S. Government. Students explain the fundamental principles and moral values of the American Republic as expressed in the U.S. Constitution and other essential documents of American democracy. (12.1)

5. Describe the systems of separated and shared powers, the role of organized interests (Federalist Paper Number 10), checks and balances (Federalist Paper Number 51), the importance of an independent judiciary (Federalist Paper Number 78), enumerated powers, rule of law, federalism, and civilian control of the military.

6. Understand that the Bill of Rights limits the powers of the federal government and state governments.



The District of Columbia has adopted the Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics. In addition, DCPS has adopted new learning standards in arts, health and physical education, science, social studies, technology and world languages.



Academic Content Standards may be found at

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

Health. Students will demonstrate the ability to use mental and emotional health knowledge, skills and strategies to enhance wellness. (Standard 1 Mental and Emotional Health)

Topic J. Mental illness, Depression, Suicide. Recognize and respond to destructive behaviors (Indicator 1)

a. Relate mental and emotional health to disease and disorder. 

b. Investigate the warning signs of depression and suicide.

c. Apply strategies and skills to intervene when signs of depression occur.


English. The student will use after-reading strategies appropriate to both the text and purpose for reading by summarizing, comparing, contrasting, synthesizing, drawing conclusions, and validating the purpose for reading.

Assessment limits:

• Summarizing, comparing, contrasting, and synthesizing significant ideas in a text

• Summarizing or synthesizing significant ideas across texts and drawing conclusions based on the information in more than one text

• Drawing conclusions based upon information from the text

• Confirming the usefulness or purpose for reading the text

• Predicting the development, topics, or ideas that might logically be included if the text were extended

 (Goal 1, Reading, Reviewing and Responding to Texts, Indicator 1.1.3)


English. The student will explain and give evidence to support perceptions about print and non-print works. (Goal 1, Expectation 1.3.1)


The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at 

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

Health. Healthy Decisions 10.2

i)    Explain the role of the environment, individual behavior, social norms, legislation, and polices in preventing intentional and unintentional injuries.

j)    Analyze the influence of emotions and peer approval on personal decision making.

q)   Explain the importance of emotional health, and identify when and where to seek support for self and others.

r)   Identify strategies for the peaceful resolution of conflicts.

Health. Advocacy and Health Promotion

h)  Design an action plan to reduce risk-taking behaviors, acts of violence, substance use, and gang involvement.

i)    Practice administration of emergency care.  

j) Describe methods of avoiding gang-related activity and the use of weapons to commit violent acts of aggression.

k)  Describe strategies to reduce and prevent violence.


English, Reading. The student will read, interpret, analyze, and evaluate nonfiction texts.

a)   Analyze text features and organizational patterns to evaluate the meaning of texts.

b)   Recognize an author’s intended audience and purpose for writing.

c)   Skim materials to develop an overview and locate information.

d)   Compare and contrast informational texts for intent and content.

e)   Interpret and use data and information in maps, charts, graphs, timelines, tables, and diagrams.

f)   Draw conclusions and make inferences on explicit and implied information using textual support as evidence.

g)   Analyze and synthesize information in order to solve problems, answer questions, and generate new knowledge.

h)   Analyze ideas within and between selections providing textual evidence.

i)    Summarize, paraphrase, and synthesize ideas, while maintaining meaning and a logical sequence of events, within and between texts. 

j)    Use reading strategies throughout the reading process to monitor comprehension. (10.5)


English, Reading. The student will read and demonstrate comprehension of a variety of nonfiction texts.

a)  Skim materials using text features including type, headings, and graphics to predict and categorize information.

b) Identify an author’s organizational pattern using textual clues, such as transitional words and phrases. 

c)  Make inferences and draw logical conclusions using explicit and implied textual evidence. 

d) Differentiate between fact and opinion.    

e)  Identify the source, viewpoint, and purpose of texts.      

f)  Describe how word choice and language structure convey an author’s viewpoint.

g)  Identify the main idea.

h) Summarize text identifying supporting details.

i)  Create an objective summary including main idea and supporting details.

j)  Identify cause and effect relationships.

k) Organize and synthesize information for use in written and other formats.

l)  Analyze ideas within and between selections providing textual evidence.

m) Use reading strategies to monitor comprehension throughout the reading process.




Academic Content Standards may be found at

Common Core Standards 

English Language Arts Standards/Reading: Informational Text. Analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of the structure an author uses in his or her exposition or argument, including whether the structure makes points clear, convincing, and engaging. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12. 5)


English Language Arts Standards/Reading: Informational Text. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12. 7)


English Language Arts Standards/Reading: Informational Text. Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness or beauty of the text. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12. 6)


English Language Arts Standards/Reading: Informational Text. Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced and developed, and the connections that are drawn between them. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI. 9-10. 3)



Common Core standards may be found at