“Reacting in a Positive Way Has Been My Grieving Process”

A Parkland survivor on Florida’s new pro-gun governor, the Thousand Oaks shooting, and not losing hope.

Jaclyn Corin at a podium.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Jaclyn Corin speaks during the March for Our Lives Rally in Washington on March 24. Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

In the nine months since Jaclyn Corin survived the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, she has organized a lobbying trip to Tallahassee for 100 of her classmates, traveled the country registering young people to vote, and helped lead a march of thousands on the National Mall. On Tuesday, the 18-year-old high school senior watched her state appear to choose a pro-gun senator and governor over the candidates she hoped would make the country safer and less beholden to the gun lobby.

But when we spoke on Friday, Corin was more charged up about the good news she and her fellow activists got on election night—that dozens of NRA-backed legislators had been voted out of Congress and that several strong voices for gun control had been voted in. We also discussed Wednesday night’s Thousand Oaks, California, shooting, and how a survivor of one mass shooting copes when other ones are in the news. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Christina Cauterucci: You turned 18 just about a month ago. What was it like for you to vote in your first election after so many months of trying to get other people to vote?

Jaclyn Corin: It was wonderful, honestly, because I would have felt kind of left out if I hadn’t been able to vote in the election I was pushing so hard for. So it was great. I went to vote with my dad, on my 18th birthday, which is something that I urge everyone to do when they turn 18, if they can: either go vote or register to vote. It was really quick and easy. I think a common misconception is that voting is a long, difficult process. I was in and out of there within 10 minutes because I went to early vote.

What were your big hopes going into election night?

My big hopes were obviously to boot out a lot of NRA-backed candidates. We saw over 30 NRA-backed candidates lose their seats, which was a huge win. And the fact that we’ve only been going at it for almost nine months now and we got rid of that many people is a huge success, and there’s no telling how much better we can do going into 2020 and 2022.

Our generation, Generation Z, and millennials showed up in amazing numbers. The last midterm election in 2014, only 21 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds actually went and voted, but 31 percent of that age bracket showed up to vote [this year], which is incredible. And so our takeaway from election night was that our generation proved the people that said we couldn’t make a difference wrong. We actually made our voices heard. And I think voting is only going to become more normalized among young people going forward.

Walk me through what election night was like for you.

It was definitely an emotional roller coaster. And I think that although we didn’t succeed as we had planned in Florida, we saw so many amazing victories around the country. In Florida, the candidate for governor who would have made the state safer and helped transform it into a leader in gun violence prevention lost, but we just have to push even harder toward 2020. It was tough in the moment to know that our state was not going to be a leader in this fight, but we saw so many states that are going to become the leaders in gun violence prevention efforts. And we have an amazingly diverse Congress now. Over 100 women were elected, and people ran on the issue of gun violence and actually prevailed. So that’s a win, that it’s actually being talked about.

It looks like Florida is now going to have a pro-gun senator, Rick Scott, and a new governor, Ron DeSantis, who is heavily supported by the NRA. How do you square their victories with the traction your activism has gotten around the country?

Florida has been a safe state [for Republicans] for as long as I’ve been alive and before that. So it’s going to take longer to progress, and have citizens here understand gun violence and how to cure it. But as a whole, we saw the NRA’s caucus crumble in some of their strongest districts. So over time, slowly but surely, the gun lobby is losing more people as supporters, as more of us start to understand what gun safety actually means, and as more young people are standing up for their lives and their families’ lives, their friends’ lives, and their neighbors’ lives. I think that Florida is going to be trailing behind a lot of states that are going to be leading the way in gun violence prevention, which is unfortunate for Floridians, but it’s fortunate for the country as a whole.

Democrat Lucy McBath just won a congressional seat in Georgia in a district that’s been Republican for decades. She was inspired to run after the shooting you experienced, and in part because her son Jordan Davis was murdered by a man who thought his music was too loud. What are your thoughts on her win?

I think Lucy is an incredibly strong human being to go through something like that and to work tirelessly since the death of her own son—it’s incredibly inspiring. She’s just a prime example of the fact that anyone can run for something. You don’t have to be a politician from the time you were 25 to actually make a difference. I commend her, because she ran on the issue of gun violence [prevention] because it’s something she cares about and it’s something she believes in. I applaud her, and I applaud all the young people around the country who ran. There are students in Orange County specifically, and all around the country, who ran for city council or mayor, and they’re only 18, 19, 20 years old. The fact that they were unsatisfied with their elected officials and took the next step, which was actually running for something, was inspiring, and it honestly makes me want to run for office someday as well.

McBath’s candidacy also speaks to the intersection between gun control activism and the racial justice activism of the Movement for Black Lives. What connections do you see, or do you want to make, between those issues and activist movements?

Our movement for gun violence prevention is entirely correlated with the Black Lives Matter movement because so much of the gun violence we see, in fact the majority of it, is in inner-city communities, is in disenfranchised communities of color, and especially within law enforcement, police brutality. So a large piece of what March for Our Lives stands for is making sure that people in those communities are protected and their lives aren’t lost. A common misconception is that we only care about the lives that are lost in schools. But that is completely false. Over the summer, we worked with groups from around country from inner-city Chicago, Milwaukee, South Central L.A. This has been an important piece of what March for Our Lives is, because even though it started in Parkland, a primarily white suburban community, it’s expanded into so much more, to involve every single community.

There was a New York magazine piece that ran a week before the election, in which 12 young people explained why they probably weren’t going to be voting in the election. A lot of people were angry after they read it, and then a lot of people were saying, “Maybe shaming people about not voting is not the best way to get them excited about voting.” I’m curious what you think keeps young people from getting engaged politically, and what’s a good way to energize them.

I did see that [article]. When I’m trying to persuade someone to vote, I always find a personal connection for that person to the ballot, because oftentimes people don’t understand what they’re actually voting for, because they don’t recognize any names on the ballot. But you always have to make sure they know the issues behind the names on the ballot, like gun violence. We’ve been in so many rooms where we ask people to say if they have been affected by gun violence or know someone who’s been affected, and almost every single hand in the room goes up. Or I’ll mention student loans, if they’re in college or heading to college, because that’s on the ballot as well. I’ll mention health care, because unfortunately a lot of students experience difficulties in their families if a family member has a pre-existing condition. So you always have to tie it back into something that people can feel closely connected to.

What was your reaction when you heard the news about the Thousand Oaks shooting?

When I woke up, I opened Twitter, and it was there. And I immediately thought, “Oh no, not again.” As did I’m sure every single American that was aware of the shooting, because we’ve seen mass shootings almost every single day this year in this country. Mass shootings are becoming a part of everyday American life, which is disgusting—it’s embarrassing, honestly.

And every time a mass shooting occurs, it’s very difficult for survivors to understand and comprehend, because they’re still trying to get over what they experienced, and they’re just reminded of the violence that they have seen firsthand when it happens to another community. Whenever there’s a mass shooting or whenever I read about someone getting senselessly murdered, it’s very difficult, because I know exactly how they feel. I saw the video of the father that lost his son, Cody Coffman, and those tears reminded me of the tears of my entire community just a few months ago.

It’s difficult, but it proves why this conversation is so important, why we continue to do this work every single day. People can no longer just pray for Thousand Oaks. They cannot pray for Pittsburgh, they cannot pray for Parkland. They have to act for Thousand Oaks, they have to act for Pittsburgh, they have to act for Parkland.

How do you take care of yourself, as you’re talking about your own experience so much and bearing witness to these other shootings?

I continue to work. Because from the very start of it, reacting in a positive way has been my grieving process. I also try to connect with survivors of each shooting. I’ve already been in contact with a girl that was in Thousand Oaks, because people look at my friends and I as people that can understand what they’re going through. So I just help other people try to grieve and try to heal, because it honestly helps me to help others.

How are you able to balance all your activism with school?

Ha! I don’t go to school as often as I should. But I just email back and forth with my teachers and I make it work. It’s a lot of long nights studying at 1 a.m., but senior year is almost halfway over, and I’m not going to let one prevail over the other, because both are important. I’m applying to college right now as well. The next chapter of my life is within distance, so I’m going to just keep pushing until that chapter begins.