For Josh Groven’s entire life, U.S. school shootings have been the sickening norm.
The Eagan teen didn’t see elected officials doing anything to stop the bloodshed, but he did notice his peers in Parkland, Florida, energizing a wave of youth activism. So, as a senior at Apple Valley’s School of Environmental Studies in 2018, he decided to fight gun violence by helping organize a multi-school walk-out and a subsequent sit-in at the Minnesota State Capitol.
“I view it as an issue of equality,” says Groven, 19, now a freshman at Macalester College, where he plans to major in journalism or sociology. “Politicians continue to fail to fix the endangerment of a population, specifically young people. You can call it ageism, but it’s an ignorance toward a very large group that’s in danger and doesn’t have political power or easily accessible means to protect themselves.”
Activism came naturally to Groven. He was drawn to rallies for Black Lives Matter and the March for Science early in high school, and four years on the “hyper-political” debate team sharpened his rhetorical prowess. In March 2018, Groven and a handful of other teens organized a mass student walk-out in Apple Valley, Eagan, and Prior Lake to protest school shootings. In advance, they orchestrated social media blitzes; they pounded pavement with old-fashioned flyers. The walkout was a success, though the young agitator felt it “lacked direct conflict” with do-nothing leaders.
That’s when Groven and about 20 others decided to storm the Capitol. They interrupted a hearing with demands that the Legislature at least consider gun control legislation. They got gaveled down and tossed out, but Groven & Co. weren’t deterred. Instead, they set up shop for 13 hours outside the office of Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), the chair of the Senate Judiciary’s public safety committee.
Ultimately, lawmakers did almost nothing to make schools safer, leaving Groven “demoralized.”
Seemingly moderate measures like universal background checks, red-flag laws, and assault weapons bans aren’t even being seriously considered; the National Rifle Association’s stranglehold on legislative discourse remains firm.
Groven isn’t yielding to cynicism. He likes the Theodore Parker quote popularized by Martin Luther King: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
“We’re not shooting toward progress,” Groven says, “but I think we do slowly trend toward a better world. That gives me hope.”