Cameron Kasky was only 17 when a shooter killed 17 people at his school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Kasky said he struggled to take care of himself. Even while he and a few of his fellow students were planning the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C., Kasky could not sleep, and he began using his prescriptions in irresponsible ways.
As he began his work as a gun control advocate, though, he said he realized he had to make a change.
“I found myself a part of something that was so much bigger than me, and so much more important,” he said. “We were trying to end gun violence and make sure no school had to face what we had to face. And suddenly, I felt like I couldn’t do my job because I was torturing myself.”
Dozens of people attended Kasky’s talk sponsored by the Union Program Council Tuesday at the K-State Student Union.
Kasky spoke about his experiences in the two years since the shooting. He’s now a student at Columbia University.
He said that while he and his fellow activists have been threatened with violence when they’ve traveled across the country, he knows that speaking with people face-to-face is important for changing people’s hearts and the culture of conversation on the issue.
“You’re not going to get everyone to agree with you on an issue,” he said. “It’s the same thing when I talk with conservative people, who own the assault weapons that I want to ban, when we look each other in the eye, we just want people to be safe, and nobody wants kids to die.
“It becomes so much better, so much less toxic,” he continued. “I don’t need them to agree with me. I want them to, but if I can just be human to them, and they can be human to me, we’re in a much better place. We might not get the exact change we want, but the environment will be healthier.”
Kasky and his fellow activists have met with most legislators on Capitol Hill, which he credited to the activists’ skill at being “annoying,” making dozens of calls and emails each day and showing up at their offices and refusing to leave without a meeting. He said he encourages anyone who is passionate about any issue to maintain that level of persistence.
“So much change in this country has come from people being annoying,” he said.
While gun control remains a top issue for Kasky, he said he sees other issues, like mental health, as being more important, especially in the lead-up to the U.S. presidential election.
“If anyone thinks that the only issue they should be voting on is guns, I strongly recommend that you look around and realize that is a very, very limited perspective,” he said. “There’s a lot more on the line. Gun violence is not just a gun control issue, it’s also a socioeconomic issue, it’s a healthcare issue, and it’s an issue that is very multi-faceted.”
Kasky urged the audience of mostly K-State students to focus on the commonalities they have on issues as voters, rather than their differences.
“There are apathetic young people, apathetic old people and people who couldn’t care less about the issues people in this country face,” he said, “and there are people in this country who are deeply dedicated.”
He called generational wars “silly.”
“At the end of the day, the most important thing is to get the people who care together to stand up to the people who don’t and say to them, ‘Change is going to win,’” he said.