Everytown Will Train Young Anti-Gun Violence Activists to Run for Office in New Program

April 24, 2023

Between 2022 and 2023, the number of young people under the age of 26 serving in state legislatures swelled by 170%, according to data from Millennial Action Project. This generation of lawmakers will bring with them their experience of being at the forefront of the country’s gun violence epidemic. 

Lawmakers have “failed to prioritize our safety. So we’ll be running to replace you.”


APRIL 24, 2023

Ashley Castillo still remembers coming face-to-face with a man armed with a gun at her Los Angeles-area elementary school, an incident that occurred not long after the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. “That just reaffirmed in my mind that someone could come into my school and end my life,” Castillo, now 18, tells Teen Vogue. “I was only six years old. You shouldn’t have to ask yourself at six years old if someone is going to come into your school and kill you.” 

According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, firearms are officially the leading cause of death among children and teens in the US. In 2021, nearly 3,600 children died in gun-related incidents, per CNN. In 2023, as of this writing, there have been 14 shootings in K-12 schools that resulted in injuries or deaths, according to EdWeek’s tracker

Castillo is part of a generation of students and young people who have grown up with gun violence at the forefront of their minds. A 2022 poll by Project Unloaded, an organization that seeks to change the cultural narrative on gun violence, found that half of young people think about mass shootings “at least” weekly; nearly half, 48%, think about school shootings just as often. 

But Castillo is part of a generation that also wants to turn those thoughts into action, to use their experiences to generate change. To help garner that power, Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the country, is launching Demand a Seat: Students Edition. Based on Everytown’s Demand a Seat program, which trains candidates to run for political office and to support campaigns for gun-sense candidates, Demand a Seat: Students Edition, will focus that same mission on students and young people ages 16-24.

“Young [people] are frustrated,” Arad Boxenbaum, 21, a former candidate for the Illinois State House, tells Teen Vogue. “Most of us have never known a world without mass shootings. I remember being in the sixth grade during the Sandy Hook shooting. I remember being 16 during the Parkland shooting. I never felt safe in the classroom, and that’s a shared experience that most in my generation have, sadly.” 

Boxenbaum submitted his petition to be on the June 28 primary ballot representing Illinois’s 83rd legislative district during his last semester at DePaul University. “No matter what you’re running for, where you’re running, and how old you are, it’s never… easy,” says Boxenbaum, who first became involved in activism when he was 15.

Though he had already been elected to his local library board, Boxenbaum enrolled in Everytown’s Demand a Seat program to help him address what he worried were weaknesses in his campaign, particularly his age, lack of connections, and what he perceived as a lack of expertise. “It was great being in a cohort where most people were on the same boat [as first-time candidates],” says Boxenbaum. “It… opened up a number of avenues for me and prepared me when it came to answering questions, about my age, for example, and how I go about that.”

Boxenbaum is not alone in questioning whether his young age might hinder his ability to run for office. According to a recent survey by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University, just 40% of 18-29 year olds feel they are well-qualified to run for office. Meanwhile, 76% of respondents to the CIRCLE survey said they believe that young people have the power to change the country. 

A majority of young people ages 18-29 also believe the country is going in the wrong direction, per the survey. And a 2022 poll from Change Research and Teen Vogue found that 90% of registered voters under 35 believe the country is on the wrong track. Demand a Seat: Students Edition aims to help young people harness the power of their knowledge and lived experience. 

In 2021, Castillo participated in the Students Demand Action Summer Leadership Academy, a weeklong program run by Everytown’s student grassroots network to mentor low-income students in areas heavily impacted by gun violence. She established her own Students Demand Action chapter at her high school and helped to organize a campus walkout in the wake of the Uvalde, Texas, elementary school shooting

Programs like Demand a Seat: Students Edition, she says, will “definitely” help amplify the efforts of student activists. “It… [will] provide those resources and that education for students to learn what it really is [to run] for office,” says Castillo. “Something we hear a lot is that we need more of our generation in office, that we need more of our generation… having a seat at the table to make these decisions, because gun violence… has affected our generation more than others.” 

Recent national polling by the Harvard Institute of Politics found that more than three in five young people ages 18-29 believe gun laws in the United States should be more strict. That included majorities of young people in college and those not in college; of male and female young people; of white, Black, Hispanic, and Asian American young people; and of young people living in urban areas, suburbs, and small towns.  

“I think there’s a lot of rage,” says Cara Chen, 17, a high school junior in Lake Oswego, Oregon, who leads her school’s Students Demand Action chapter. “I see a lot of students who are angry and want to send a very strong message, that we want a seat at the table…. I want to be the last generation who has to do lockdown drills at school.”

Chen was inspired to become involved in the gun control movement in the aftermath of the 2021 spa shootings in Atlanta, where she grew up before her family moved to Oregon. Part of the work her school’s chapter does is help fundraise for a variety of causes, including raising awareness of the risk of LGBTQ+ suicide, to illustrate the broad scope and intersectionality of gun violence prevention. 

The public often talks about school shootings in particular, Chen points out, but the people who experience gun violence outside of school are disproportionately likely to be Black and male. “These systemic inequalities have been perpetuated by the generations who have held power for us,” she says. “It would be silly… for us to just take that in step and think that the status quo is anything remotely close to okay.” 

Demand a Seat: Students Edition, which will hold its first training with its inaugural cohort in October, aims to help students navigate the structure of campaigns. According to Everytown, over the course of three days, participants will learn about organizing and building campaign teams, crafting and fine-tuning campaign messaging, campaign budgeting and fundraising, and voter contact strategies. 

“It’s really important that we learn how to navigate the complex political machinery that goes into making these happen and goes into getting people elected,” says Chen. “If we understand how that works and how to effectively fundraise, communicate, and mobilize volunteers, that’s really important. Not just for the elections, but for all sorts of grassroots movements in the future.” 

Says Boxenbaum, “Me and my peers have been organizing since we were 15 or 16 years old, and we haven’t stopped. Now a number of us are running for office, and I think we’re going to continue to get elected to office.” 

Between 2022 and 2023, the number of young people under the age of 26 serving in state legislatures swelled by 170%, according to data from Millennial Action Project. This generation of lawmakers will bring with them their experience of being at the forefront of the country’s gun violence epidemic. 

“Lawmakers… the people in power, I think students, generally, have a feeling that they’ve failed to prioritize our safety,” says Chen. “So we’ll be running to replace you.”

Read the article on Teen Vogue —>

Rep. Sara Jacobs


Be a part of a network of lawmakers committed to governing effectively, passing more representative public policy, and increasing public trust in democracy.