Days after thousands of students across the country walked out in protest against gun violence, one teen activist was busy organizing another mass demonstration — this time in defense of firearms.
Will Riley, a senior at Carlsbad High School in Carlsbad, New Mexico, is the leader of Stand for the Second, a nationwide walkout modeled after the widespread student protests on March 14 and April 20. Riley said he was moved to create the event by the media’s scant coverage of the pro-gun views of his peers in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.
“I want to show that there is another side to this story,” said Riley in an interview with The Trace. “There are definitely some problems that we need to address, but the solution is not to start taking away people’s rights.”
Though students have organized some pro-gun events following the February mass shooting, this is the first cohesive national effort.
Riley doesn’t own a gun, has been hunting “like three times,” and describes himself as “definitely not in any sense a gun nut.” He is also familiar with gun violence: his cousin was shot to death in a domestic violence incident.
Riley’s interest in firearms, he said, is a legal one: he cares deeply about the Bill of Rights. He was particularly incensed when retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote an op-ed in the New York Times calling for a repeal of the Second Amendment, a move Riley believes was emboldened by media coverage of the March for our Lives and the National School Walkout.
“While I’m sure a lot of people have thought that before, we haven’t had anyone — especially someone of his stature — say something like that,” Riley said. “It was really disturbing to me, that we had someone say, ‘I think we need to start repealing pieces of the Bill of Rights.’”
Stand for the Second will follow a similar format to the previous gun-related walkouts: beginning at 10 a.m. local time on May 2, students are encouraged to walk out of their classrooms and observe 16 minutes of silence, to honor, Riley said, lives saved by defensive gun use.
So far, walkouts at more than 300 schools in 40 states are planned, said Riley. That’s a fraction of the more than 2,600 walkouts that occurred during the National School Walkout on April 20.
Riley said he isn’t bothered that Stand for the Second may not match the scale of previous walkouts. He just wants Americans to understand that not all high school students are in favor of increased gun regulation.
“Even if it turns out that we have less people than we might want, I want to show that we need to have a conversation about this before we act,” he said.
Though he disagrees politically with the Parkland students, he said he also admires them, specifically Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, who he thinks speak with a lot of passion.
“I think it’s absolutely critical that we listen to them, and we see their point of view,” he said. “But I think that — especially when someone’s gone through a tragedy like that — we need to consider if what they’re saying is rational. Yes, you may be very upset and when you are very upset, you may not be making the most rational decisions, especially when they’re concerning the entire future of our nation.”