Toni Dower: The Nuances When it Comes to the Gun Violence Debate

Image: Toni Dower

Image: Toni Dower

Toni Dower is the founder and director of Students on Safety, a 501(c)(3)  bipartisan organization that’s mission is to solve the underlying issues of gun violence. Toni grew up in Texas, a state that is famously known for their love and desire of guns. Yet Dower’s feelings about policies and political ideologies is not linear. Having grown up in both a suburb close to Dallas, and a small town, Dower believes she in terms of political ideologies, has seen a large spectrum.  Not surprisingly, this greatly influences both her political interests, and her way of thinking.

 When Toni was in eighth grade, the shooting in Parkland occurred, rocking our nation and many small towns like the  one Toni lives in. When students were organizing and talking about the walkout that was going to occur, Dower became alarmed. Many of her peers didn’t understand the nuisances of the issues and laws surrounding the gun violence debate. Toni was also distraught over the black and white, ‘good guy vs. bad guy” debate that was being pushed around in the media after Parkland. She was perplexed with the idea that an issue as multifaceted like gun violence, had this idea that if you support gun reform than you are a good human being, and if you don’t than you are a ruthless murderer.  Dower found that even in her state of Texas, where there are many gun owners, people were still just as horrified and heartbroken in regards to what occurred in Parkland, just like the rest of America. Dower also noted, specifically that the leaders from March for Our Lives were extremely inflammatory when it came to the gun regulation debate. She didn’t like the way her generation was being represented. Dower believes that there has to be a gray area when it comes to politics and that the good guy bad guy narrative will not help alleviate the repercussions of shootings. Dower began to want to bridge the gap in the gun violence debate between Democrats and Republicans. She also wanted to educate people on the basic facts, and laws surrounding guns in America. This is where her bipartisan organization Students on Safety was created. They now have sixty chapters in middle and high schools across the United States.

Image: Students on Safety

Image: Students on Safety

Students on Safety's main goal is to alleviate the underground causes of gun violence, such as mentally ill or bullied kids, and incompetent adults. Toni wants her organization to solve the root problems first, besides just protesting.  Her organization’s activities includes creating better mental health resources for kids in schools, combating suicide, bullying and overall preventing school shootings by solving the small problems at hand. An example would be petitioning for better councilors in a high school and or increasing security measures by making sure all doors in a school are functioning. Students on Safety also does fun projects, throw fundraisers, while also advocating  for change at a grassroots level. In recent times, the organization has held workshops on gun policy, and held workshops for adults on how to identify suicidal teens. Dower notes that besides preventing school shootings, her organization wants to do something instead of saying something. Since there are many chapters across the country, Students Of Safety members curate what they want to do based on their school’s needs.

 When I asked Toni for other ways we can combat gun violence, more specifically legislative wise she explained that she supports gun reform legislation as long as its not overly restrictive. More importantly it seems that Dower wants to alleviate gun issues in America with ways that aren’t with legislation. She believes that education on gun use and better training is definitely needed. When I asked her about the debate on whether children or teachers should carry guns in schools she said that she believes that students shouldn’t carry guns in schools, and that personally it doesn’t make any sense to slap a gun on a teacher that has no prior training or use of a gun. Yet, if teachers do have the proper education and license in order to carry a gun, and if the districts says they can, than  a teacher can bring their gun to school. Dower also doesn’t believe in gun free zones, and she noted that many public places, like malls, and airports have armed guards, so why is it crazy that schools have armed guards? In my conversation with Toni, she gave advice to future organizers like herself. Dower wants people to be educated, and to understand the laws in regards to what you are protesting for. She also said that it is important to understand both sides of an issue and to keep an open mind. In return, you won’t let yourself run on emotion alone, but with facts. In regards to guns, and laws surrounding them, she urges people to go to a shooting range, and learn how to take apart and put back together a gun. If you feel comfortable even, shoot it.

 Throughout my conversation with Toni, there were things and ideologies she expressed that I didn’t necessarily agree with. Most importantly though, I learned that it is very important to understand the full spectrum of opinions when it comes to the gun reform debate. Before getting to know Dower and her organization, I had a very black and white view of the gun reform debate. Now, I see that this issue, and many other issues like it have gray areas. Sometimes it’s okay if two people disagree, and it doesn’t mean you have less respect for that person. it was interesting to me, and hopefully to Dower, to have a conversation with someone that you don’t know that much about your political ideologies. I urge you all to do the same. Not everything is good and bad or black and white. That I believe is something Students on Safety is trying to fix.