In the aftermath of the calamitous shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School on Valentine’s Day of 2018, over 400 Princeton community members rallied against gun violence outside of Frist Campus Center in March of the same year. Since then, the campus has been virtually silent on gun reform issues — and two first year students are hard at work to change that.
Ana Blanco and Julia Elman, both members of the Class of 2023, have been planning since the fall to revive Princeton Against Gun Violence (PAGV), an advocacy group formed after the MSD shooting in 2018. After organizing the highly successful protest that spring, the club quickly became inactive.
Blanco and Elman, both prospective Wilson school concentrators, met on Community Action and quickly recognized their shared passion for gun law activism. After coordinating with the former president of the club and the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students, the two assumed the position of co-heads of PAGV. They tabled at Frist last week to gauge interest and are still in the phase of recruitment; they plan to host their first meeting within the next two weeks.
Julio Martinez ’23 was one of the first to join the club and since then has assisted in initial organization. All three students were involved in gun reform advocacy in high school. Blanco lived less than an hour away from MSD in Parkland, Fla., while Martinez grew up 20 minutes from Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, the site of the deadliest attack in history against the LGBTQ+ community in the United States. After noticing the lack of a group on campus in which to discuss gun violence, the three agreed on the necessity of forming their own.
“In my neighborhood, there was a shootout at the bus stop where I went every day to pick up my little brother. When things like that happen, it’s no longer theoretical,” Martinez said. “I’m getting chills now as I say this, but the possibility of my family getting caught up in a shooting all of a sudden seemed real.”
The group aims to create a continuous dialogue around gun policy reform, rather than merely responding to tragedies. Blanco described a cycle of national attention as having “spikes” after every mass shooting and almost complete silence in the intervals between. Both co-heads emphasized their view of gun violence as a human rights issue, a public health concern, and an imminent, rather than periodic, crisis.
To that end, this semester, the group will be working on a documentary that Blanco hopes will “pop the orange bubble,” wherein she said members of the University have only come into contact with gun violence in its sensationalized form in the media. The film will aim to capture the life of high schoolers in Trenton who are in close proximity to shootings on a regular basis.
“There’s a mass shooting, and people come together immediately, and the media is all over it, and everyone cares for a concentrated period of time,” Blanco said. “But the actual issue is that this is an everyday problem for some.”
PAGV also hopes to educate voters about the various stances of elected officials, and will be working alongside the Princeton Vote100 campaign this Friday, Feb. 14, at the Vote100 Day of Action.
“We will be registering voters and using that platform to make sure that everyone is aware of which representatives have which gun policies — not telling them who to vote for, but making what can be a sometimes opaque policy issue more accessible,” Elman said.
Elman and Blanco also reiterated that their objective is to debate, not to preach. They see a comprehensive understanding of the different sides of this divisive issue as a way forward and want PAGV to be a platform for that kind of education.
“Princeton is very liberal, but we can’t cut ourselves off from people of different political affiliations,” Elman said. “Making [gun violence] a partisan issue really detracts from the importance of finding a solution to what is not just a problem, but a crisis.”
Martinez also noted that he has found few faculty members at the University who have a vocal stance on gun reform and hopes to galvanize intellectual support for their movement.
“It’s important for the Princeton community to not feel as if they are above this issue, or that they only need to talk about it when it is trendy to do so,” Martinez said. “When Princeton students, and particularly also professors, protest — that’s when people start to listen.”