Vice President Harris Calls for Action on Guns in LHS Address

Vice President Kamala Harris has been the highest-profile government official to visit Lewis High School, speaking at Friday’s assembly against gun violence.


Donnie Biggs

Vice President Kamala Harris addresses a crowd of orange made of Lewis students and staff, community members, and advocates on Friday, June 2 at Lewis High School’s Main Gym.

Alex Ewing, Staff Writer

A year ago, the nation was shaken by a school shooting that claimed the lives of 21 students and staff in Uvalde, Texas. This was only one of 647 mass shootings in 2022 according to Yahoo, but it uniquely managed to generate public anger at elected officials’ inaction on gun violence. More than 200 students at Lewis High School walked out last year, led by a group of five freshmen demanding action from their representatives on this epidemic of violence that claims thousands of lives annually.

In the year since, the gun violence epidemic has only intensified, but Lewis’ profile as a center of activism has grown. In August, the Lewis Leadership Program took off, and in September of 2022, more than 250 students walked out against transphobic policies from the Virginia Department of Education. Then, in February, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy came to Lewis to discuss mental health issues with students. On Friday, everything came full circle. Vice President Kamala Harris became the latest and most-high profile government official to come to Lewis High School, talking about the issue that had motivated student leaders to act a year earlier: gun violence.

After the main gym was transformed into a venue ready for Vice President Harris’ address, more than over 500 students, teachers, and community members donning orange, the color of gun violence prevention, gathered to listen to introductory speakers including Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, Virginia Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, and Lewis High School’s own Senior Jada Hughes. 

Harris was welcomed warmly by the audience, including Lewis High School Senior Essi Butu-Agadezukpo.

“It was awesome when she walked out and they were welcoming her. It was also nice that she was comforting, advocating for, and telling the stories of victims. She’s really into it, and she really wants a change,” Butu-Agadezukpo said.

Harris and other speakers were adamant in the need for action on gun violence, and the audience was reminded of grim statistics as gun violence soars in the United States. “The number one cause of death for the children of America is gun violence… In this very moment in our country, one in five Americans has lost a family member to gun violence. One in five,” Harris said.

While the situation on gun violence is only worsening, Harris conveyed a message of hope and imminent success, pointing to last years’ Bipartisan Safer Communities Act as a sign that progress on this issue can be achieved, even if it’s not at the pace that our communities need. At the same time, Harris and other speakers, especially Cardona, called out obstructionism by extreme right politicians who have blocked action on gun violence. “[There are some politicians] who would protect assault weapons more than they care to protect the lives of children,” Cardona said.

Contrasting with those extreme right politicians, Harris and the other speakers agreed that drastic action has to be taken. “As someone who has fought for my entire career to try and end this violence, I know that some of the answers are pretty straightforward. Solutions do exist!” Harris told attendees. 

Sophomore Jerusalem Hailu, one of the five students who led last years’ gun violence walkout, agreed that action has to be taken to curb gun violence. “I think that we definitely need change, and this is a start. There is more that needs to be done to ensure that the death rates decrease. We still have a long way to go,” Hailu said.

Hailu and Butu-Agadezukpo aren’t alone in wanting action on guns; thousands in this country suffer daily from the human cost of this epidemic. As the death toll continues climbing and the guns continue firing, it seems like it will be a long time before the bullets stop and our country can heal.