Andreas Sandoval, 17, a junior at the Academy for Technology and the Classics, stood before scores of gun-rights advocates last month at the state Capitol.
He was fed up, he told the crowd, because he felt like many of his peers were being “brainwashed” by gun control activists and a wave of anti-gun sentiment across the country. He wanted to share his views as a student who supports gun ownership but also doesn’t want to get shot at school.
“We need to speak up for our rights rather than just jumping on the bandwagon of the March for Our Lives,” Sandoval said at the April 14 Second Amendment rally in Santa Fe, part of a nationwide push against the massive student-led anti-gun violence demonstrations prompted by mass school shootings.
Sandoval organized a student walkout and rally Wednesday at ATC aimed at raising awareness of Second Amendment rights. Several dozen students attended the event, one of about 300 at schools across the U.S. in a countermovement called Stand for the Second. The national effort was launched by Carlsbad High School senior Will Riley.
At the front of the small crowd of students at ATC was an unlikely ally of Sandoval’s.
Longtime friend and classmate August Railey, who had helped organize an April 20 rally against gun violence at the state Capitol, was standing in support of Sandoval, wearing a “Stand for the 2nd” T-shirt.
Shortly after the gun-rights rally at the Capitol, Railey, also 17 and a junior at ATC, had come across photos and videos of the event as he was surfing Snapchat. He saw clips of Sandoval speaking. The next week, he approached his friend at the charter school to tell Sandoval he planned to speak April 20 at the Roundhouse in solidarity with the student-organized National School Walkout, scheduled on the 19th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado.
“I don’t want that to divide us,” Railey told Sandoval.
What followed was a conversation in which the two teens discovered they shared some common ground.
“We need to have schools safe again,” Sandoval said.
Railey and Sandoval sat down in a classroom at lunchtime one day to discuss issues surrounding the raging debate about gun violence and gun control. The talk drew a crowd of peers who wanted to listen in, said the teens, adding that they both walked away with new knowledge.
Railey learned about the technical differences between semi-automatic and automatic weapons, he said, and about the bump stock, an accessory that gunman Stephen Paddock had used to increase the firing capacity of his weapon during the Las Vegas, Nev., shooting spree that killed 58 people in October.
Sandoval learned that Railey — and many others calling for an end to gun violence — are not advocating to repeal the Second Amendment or take away legally owned firearms. Most simply want to keep guns out of the hands of those who would do harm, Sandoval said — and that’s a position he agrees with.
Sandoval was excited that Railey had approached him and that the pair had decided to talk about the issue rather than stubbornly remain on opposites sides of the debate without listening to each other’s viewpoints.
“That’s the whole point of the debates and rallies,” he said, “is talking to other people and getting to know what they know. … We just want to communicate with each other, not hate each other.”
Less than a week later, Railey painted his cheeks orange — the color branded by anti-gun violence groups — and stepped behind a podium at the Roundhouse to address hundreds of other young people. He told them about his conversations with Sandoval.
“It became utterly clear that we have the same goals: We both want safety and security in our communities,” Railey said. “It is of the utmost importance that we acknowledge that we are not separate. The solution comes when we work together.”
Sandoval was in the audience, wearing a yellow pin that read, “Don’t tread on me.”
On Wednesday, Railey returned the courtesy.
Sandoval told students who had gathered for the Second Amendment walkout that people have a right to own AR-15 semi-automatic rifles. The focus of gun control efforts, he said, should be on preventing bad people from owning guns, not banning gun ownership. And he said he backs a plan to station armed officers on campus.
Railey said he, too, supports the Second Amendment, and he supports his friends who are gun-rights advocates.
He also believes that by working together, they can help make policy changes.
“Eventually, we are all going to be taking up the positions of leaders,” Railey said.
“If we understand that my friend from high school, who is now leading the movement for the Second Amendment, was willing to hear me out and is still willing to maintain that friendship,” he added, “we can make huge strides in changing the way that we operate, the way that we interpret the laws, the way that we create the laws.”
Contact Sami Edge at 505-986-3055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.