While her classmates are prepping for the ACTs or finding a prom date, a North Saint Paul High School student is fighting for gun reform.
Hailey Dickinson, a junior, has been working for Students Demand Action for two years. The group is a local subsidiary of Everytown for Gun Safety, which is a nonprofit group dedicated to creating stricter gun laws.
“I got involved after the Parkland shooting like a lot of people,” she said, referring to the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 people and sparked national outrage.
Students Demand Action is divided into chapters all over the state that work to create measurable change across Minnesota. Two of the group’s top priorities are increasing background checks and creating red flag laws, which are temporary bans on buying a gun at the request of a person’s family or law enforcement departments.
Dickinson said young people are frightened by gun violence, which makes the message of gun control more powerful coming from them.
“I think a lot of advocacy issues are centered around people who are not impacted by the issue,” she said.
Dickinson speaks respectfully, but the passion in her eyes is unmistakable.
She brings a unique perspective to Students Demand Action, as well — one many of her fellow activists lack.
“My dad’s a hunter, my brother’s a hunter,” she said, emphasizing that she’s not a stranger to gun culture. “However, I think that it’s important to recognize … your right to possess a firearm doesn’t exceed that of another’s (right) to live.”
Despite the differences between Dickinson and members of her family, she claims that having family members who hunt has helped her better understand other gun owners. Knowing gun owners as actual people has also assisted her in realizing they have similar goals — reducing gun deaths and violence overall.
“I think that everyone recognizes that violence is a problem. I just think that people have different views on how to solve it,” Dickinson said.
Dickinson’s solution is creating an environment where civil discourse can go on — not just shouting counterpoints.
“I think that it’s just really important that we need to reach across the aisle and not just have conversations, (but) find a common ground with other people who we don’t initially agree with,” she said.
According to Dickinson, recent debates on gun control have been unproductive and not led to any significant change.
“A big frustration for us is inaction in the (state) Senate,” she said. “Regardless of whether that means background checks (or) red flag laws, it’s just inaction around any conversation about gun violence.”
So how can people prevent inaction as private citizens? Dickinson has some ideas about what can help.
“I always say you can start up a Students Demand Action chapter. If that’s not up your alley, call your senators and call your representatives,” she said. “They need to hear that this matters to you.”