On February 14, 2018, Sam Zeif was a 17-year-old senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida who did not plan on a life of activism. When gunshots started ringing out, he holed up in class with other students and started texting with his younger brother, who was just a floor away. They survived, but among the 17 killed that day was Zeif's best friend, whose memory has helped power activism for gun reform in the year since. Below, in his own words, Zeif—who's now studying hospitality at the University of Central Florida—explains what cynics about the idea of young people forcing changes to America's gun laws are missing.
A year later, I still think about it at least once a day. Not so much fear or anxiety about public danger and shootings, but my friend Joaquin Oliver, who was killed. I think about him way more than what happened. When memories of the incident itself come in, I think about it, deal with it, and push it out as best as I can. But when I think about Joaquin, I dwell on him for as long as possible.
A day or two after the shooting, I went and saw a therapist. It wasn't a bad experience, but I find it more helpful to do stuff for Joaquin and other victims and talk about these issues with people who have experienced the same kinds of tragedy. It's like an innocence that was taken away, and that's coming from an 18-year-old. My little brother, who was there that day, was 14—I've had a chance to grow up, yet in a way, it still hasn’t really hit him. For me, it’s integrated into daily life—when I'm in a classroom, I look at a window and it's just always in my head. It's still part of my life: I live in Orlando, and hear gunshots at night occasionally. There's no going back.
When it comes to gun control after Parkland, Florida passed a law, but we obviously haven't gotten everything we wanted. Still, we’re happy with what we started. This movement has made change. We're not done, but it's something, and I think it's pretty great. People talk shit: They're just kids, we shouldn't listen to them. But people are listening and agreeing.
I realized shortly after visiting the White House last year that they weren't going to do anything in Congress, and that we were going to have to do this at a local level. We all knew that. That’s why we did the bus tour. That’s why do we do panel discussions. We knew they were not going to listen to us unless we had a bunch of people behind us.
But it wasn't surprising when media coverage faded. The reality is more things are happening. There's so much that needs to be done, and it's hard to get everyone to focus on one thing. And when people do focus on guns, some think we want to take away the Second Amendment, and that's not the reality. We just don't think that's what the Second Amendment was intended for when it was written—the weapons we have today were unthought of, unheard of, back then. This is bigger than Parkland or even Florida, though. We want universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines written into permanent national legislation.
When it comes to politics, I will only vote for someone if they can promise to be in office for the greater good of their citizens—I don't want someone who's there to fill their pockets or push their own agenda. You shouldn't be running for a position for the people if you're not for the people. I'm not just focused on the gun lobby, either. Why is one of the former heads of the coal industry in charge of the EPA? I think a lot of Parklanders want candidates who are there for the people, and will put citizens' lives before money.
For the people who doubt us or think we failed, first I would show them a picture of the crowd at the March for Our Lives, and then I would show them a picture of Trump's inauguration. Then I would ask them where they're from and why they don't see any of the changes we've made. Even one of my best friends, who lives in Texas, I actually ran into him in Israel in November, and he said to me, "Look, I love you, but I don't think you really did anything."
I was like, "Did you happen to see one of the 100 panels I've done since then, or any of my TV interviews, or documentaries that have been released? Right, so you haven't seen the full scale of this fight and what people have been pushing." Dozens of bills related to gun violence were passed in 2018; some were vetoed and some are still pending. But bump stocks are banned nationally, and several states enacted bans on owning weapons for people with mental health problems or domestic violence histories.
People like Louis CK can think what they want to think. but that's not going to change what I'm pushing for. If, after everything you put in, there's just one more person that thinks like you and will support you, you're winning.
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