Cortney Borer is surrounded by guns. Both of her parents are members of the National Rifle Association, and she picked up her first gun at age 10 or 11 to start competitive shooting.
Borer, now 17, also lives in Wyoming, the state with the most guns per capita. So when her high school decided to become one of few in the state to participate in March for Our Lives, a nationwide demonstration in support of stricter gun laws, she wanted her voice heard.
Along with 10 other students, Borer helped organize her school, Laramie High School in southern Wyoming, to host its own march on Saturday. But just one day before the event, she told VICE News she didn’t plan to participate. Only one other community in Wyoming has planned a march in solidarity with the 1 million people who’ll descend on Washington, D.C., on Saturday to demand greater gun control.
“In all honesty, I feel as if these rallies were a little rash and planned in a time of high emotion and misplaced aggression,” Borer said. “In my opinion, we need to take a step back and assess the situation rationally, focusing our energy on working out the root cause of this issue and finding solutions that will actually make a difference instead of jumping straight into the protesting.”
Borer, a senior at her school, initially wanted to join the march and agreed to help plan her school’s event because she wanted to represent the voices of gun owners and enthusiasts.
Planned by many of the student survivors of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people, the March for Our Lives wants to ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as close a loophole on background checks. Borer is open to required mental health examinations, stronger background checks, mandatory gun safety classes, and possibly even special permits required for semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15. But she said a sweeping ban on assault-style weapons would be detrimental.
“I feel like an outright ban of any sort of firearm is out of the question, especially if one is not familiar with different types of guns,” Borer said. “Restrictions may be in order, but I feel as if a total ban is taking it one step too far. There are many people that would suffer from a ban, not just in this area, but all over the United States.”
Borer pointed to the various types of guns needed for hunting. Her family, for example, uses a semi-automatic firearm when they go hiking to protect themselves against mountain lions.
But even in Wyoming, where guns are a way of life, Borer finds her views sometimes difficult to talk about.
“I think it’s been very hard for gun users my age to express their opinions,” she said. “The majority of people our age are adamantly against guns at this point in time, and I think it’s very intimidating for someone to stand up to their friends and defend what they believe in when they know that their friends don’t agree with them.”
For Borer, shooting guns is an integral part of her past but a way into her future as well. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) offers college scholarships for shooting teams, and she’s hoping to land one to join the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s team next year. Without the scholarship, she said she’d accrue “fairly substantial” debt that she’d have to try to pay off after college.
Since the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s team doesn’t provide rifles for its members, Borer would need to purchase her own .22 to participate. She won't be able to do that if the age limit to buy guns increases. Her parents could technically buy the gun for her, but she’d have to haul all her equipment, alone, 500 miles across two states with different gun laws.
Borer’s views, however, don’t entirely set her apart from other participants in the march, according to Leila Johnson, a freshman at Laramie High School who also helped organize the event. The committee has been making posters and gathering support for the last several weeks to represent the school’s diversity of opinion on gun laws.
“We are getting a lot of people who support gun ownership but who believe in logical gun reform,” she said. “We are trying to include them and hear their voice as well.”
More people per capita own guns in Wyoming than anywhere else in the U.S. Residents can also carry open or concealed firearms without permits, and the state has no mandated waiting period for firearm purchases, nor magazine restrictions.
Wyoming also has a rate of firearm deaths six points higher than the national average.
"In all honesty, I feel as if these rallies were a little rash and planned in a time of high emotion and misplaced aggression."
Under current law, school districts in Wyoming can also decide to arm teachers. In March, lawmakers also passed an expansion of “Stand Your Ground” laws, which protects those who use deadly force without retreating and claim self-defense. The bill sailed through the House Judiciary Committee 8-1 and became law even though the governor refused to sign the bill saying lobbyists went “overboard.”
“Wyoming has been working hard to address school safety,” Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead told VICE News. “Public awareness of school safety and continued focus on the issue are both important. The ‘March for Our Lives’ event is one way to accomplish this.”
Mead said Wyoming has started to implement a tip line program, which allows students, parents, and teachers to anonymously report safety concerns. Lawmakers also passed a $9 million budget in 2014 to bolster school safety.
For the march on Saturday, students at Laramie High School invited both Democratic state Rep. Chris Pelkey and his colleague Democratic state Sen. Chris Rothfuss. Pelkey was the only member of Wyoming’s House Judiciary Committee who voted against the expansion of Stand Your Ground laws. Both politicians have tried to push for gun-reform in the state and plan to attend the school’s march.
Pelkey said he was “so impressed” that students had started a national movement, but he isn’t optimistic about gun reform in Wyoming.
“Gun control in Wyoming is how steady you hold your rifle,” Pelkey joked, quoting an old boss. “The only possible thing I could think of is an expansion of background checks, and I think even that would be limited.”
“This is a state that is certainly very pro-Second amendment rights, so I know you’re going to get a diverse response throughout state,” Rothfuss added.
While sweeping restrictions on guns may be long shot for Wyoming, the March for Our Lives movement has caught the attention of lawmakers and gun rights advocates on a national level.
The NRA has gone on an offensive against the March for Our Lives and the students who planned it in the last several weeks. Using its media platform NRA TV, the gun lobbying group has bashed the event as a “carnival of a march” that aims to take everyone’s guns away.
But for Borer, gun control isn’t that black and white. “If there is anything I have learned in life so far, it is that things are more complicated than they appear to be at first glance,” she said.
Cover image: (Photos courtesy of Cortney Borer)