From left: Vijita Patel, trustee of Varkey Foundation, with Lewis Mizen, Suzanna Barna and Kevin Trejos, Parkland School shooting survivors, during the plenary session on ‘The Youth Voice’ at the Global Education and Skills Forum at Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News

Dubai: Students who survived last month’s deadly school shooting in Florida, which killed 17 people, called for tighter gun control at the Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF) in Dubai on Saturday.

Three schoolmates — Suzanna Barna, Lewis Mizen and Kevin Trejos — from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School spoke about the shooting and urged delegates to support stricter gun regulation.

A minute of silence was also observed at GESF, organised by the Varkey Foundation, in memory of the victims.

 We didn’t know where the shooter was. We didn’t know if he was coming to our classroom next.”

 - Kevin Trejos | Senior student 

Speaking during the opening plenary session, an emotional Trejos recalled how he and other students hid in a closet as a gunman — a former student — went on a shooting spree, firing rounds at children from an assault-style rifle.

“I texted my parents, ‘There is an active shooter at school. I am safe’. I didn’t know if I was safe, but I wanted them to feel I was safe,” Trejos said.

Students are evacuated by police out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, after a shooter opened fire on the campus on February 14. AP

Barna said her “first day back was the hardest. You walk into the classroom and you see empty desks. It’s hard to acknowledge the reality of what happened to us”.

Talking about US President Donald Trump’s idea of arming teachers, Mizen said teachers should not have to “put their lives on the line, they shouldn’t be the first line of defence … We need to stop school shootings, not prepare for it when it happens”.

 Teachers are there to educate their students. They shouldn’t have to serve as the first line of defence between them and a rampant gunman on campus.”

 - Lewis Mizen | Senior student 

The three schoolmates — all seniors — and others have been campaigning for curbs on the kind of guns and ammo that can be purchased legally, reducing the legal buying age, stricter background checks, and other measures.

The teens told GESF delegates gun control was a difficult and decisive issue in the US, in part because the Second Amendment to the US Constitution gives people the right to bear arms.

Trejos said “it’s practically impossible” to ban guns outright in the US, but called to “limit access to guns for criminals and potential criminals … and make it difficult to fire indiscriminately”.

The students have joined a nationwide movement in America (#NeverAgain) calling on legislators to act on gun control and school safety. Last week, scores of students across the US walked out of class to demand change.

 Emotionally it’s been tough to deal with the loss we have to see every day, but we’re also in the process of getting back to normal. It will happen eventually, but it’s going to take time.”

 - Suzanna Barna | Senior student 

On Saturday at GESF, the survivors of the Florida shooting said their state had passed a Bill supporting gun control following lobbying efforts.

Speaking at a press conference after the session, the schoolmates reiterated the need for what they see as legal reforms. Trejos said there was a US court case “where even the most conservative, most pro-gun Supreme Court Justice said that even the Second Amendment has its limits — and its limits clearly are not enough at the moment”.

Mizen said it was important to point out that gun legislation is “not a Democrat issue, it’s not a Republican issue, it’s an American issue”.

The two-day GESF, taking place at Atlantis The Palm, ends on Sunday. At the closing ceremony, the winner of the $1-million Global Teacher Prize will be revealed.