QUÉBEC — Just over a year ago, David Hogg was holed up in a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School classroom in Parkland, Florida, unsure if he'd survive the mass shooting unfolding all around him. While Hogg was spared that day, the lives of 17 classmates and friends were tragically snuffed out.
Since then, the 18-year-old has become one of the most recognizable advocates for stricter gun laws in the United States. He is a founding member of Never Again MSD, a gun control group formed by members of his high school. He has led several high-profile protests and marches, and has been the subject of endless conspiracy theories and criticism from the right.
HuffPost Québec spoke exclusively with Hogg, who gave a talk on youth and democracy at the youth conference Rencontres Action Jeunesse in Quebec. He spoke about opposition to the Quebec long-gun registry, hatred against minorities and political polarization.
Below is a condensed version of the conversation, lightly edited for clarity.
Discussions of gun violence prevention make some fear that their rights will be taken away. Do you feel this fear is irrational?
Yes. If people feel like a gun registry is going to be the thing that empowers a tyrannical government, it's not going to be. The thing that will empower a tyrannical government is not voting in your elections. The thing that will empower a tyrannical government is the continued militarization of the police to suppress the people. I don't know what that's like in Canada, but in America that's a huge problem that a lot of communities face.
It's not about taking guns away, it's about gun violence prevention. It's about saving lives, any way you can. It's okay to discredit the registry, but what's not okay is not proposing any other solutions. And if you do propose any other solution, what's especially not okay is to say you're going to do something and then let another child die as a result of preventable gun violence.
We had a shooting two years ago at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City. Six worshippers died. In your address, you said that we have to call it out for what it is: a hate crime. What did you mean by that?
When people are killed specifically because of their religion or ethnicity or race, that is a hate crime. Period. It's not just something miscellaneous that happens. I think what every country has to work to do a better job of is understanding and loving each other. People fear what they don't know, and the only way to eradicate that fear and to eliminate hate crimes is by educating people. People should talk to the groups that they have previous stereotypes about. In reality they're [the stereotypes] are unfounded. They don't exist.
People fear what they don't know, and the only way to eradicate that fear and to eliminate hate crimes is by educating people.David Hogg
Alexandre Bissonnette, the gunman, searched for information about Donald Trump as well as high-profile figures within incel culture before the shooting. He radicalized himself online. How do you propose we stop people like that?
Make sure they can't get guns in the first place. And if they do have guns, you create a system through due process to disarm them. Because if somebody is making hate comments online or is making active threats to organized group by religion, race, ethnicity or any other defining characteristic, that person shouldn't have a weapon in the first place. Or they should have that weapon taken away through a court of law.
François Legault, the premier of Quebec, recently said that there was no Islamophobia in Quebec. Do you think that politicians are hesitant to call out racism?
I remember reading this somewhere: "In a racist society, it's not enough not to be racist, we have to be anti-racist." (Angela Davis, US human rights activist). From a leadership perspective and a political perspective, you have to acknowledge a problem to solve that problem. If you say Islamophobia doesn't exist, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. You may not have experienced it, but what you should do is go out there and talk to people in the affected group. Ask them how they feel they're been treated. Listen to them as a leader, as a human being. Not as a politician looking to get points, but as a human being. Wage a war not on individuals, but on hate and discrimination. That comment shows a severe lack of communication between the politician and the affected community.
You have to acknowledge a problem to solve that problem. If you say Islamophobia doesn't exist, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist.David Hogg
The situation in Quebec is not comparable to that of the United States in terms of gun violence, but there is a very real resistance here to a mandatory firearms registry. Only a quarter of weapon owners support the registry. What is your message for those people who refuse to register?
A little more hassle is worth saving at least one more person's life, right? And even if you feel like you're not going to be affected, if you feel like this doesn't apply to you because there's nothing that could possibly go wrong, it's a little more work to save a lot more lives. And I think it's worth it. It's worth a little inconvenience to make sure that somebody doesn't have to go through the massive loss of losing a child to gun violence. You should be part of a system that can save lives. Because Canada also has not an insignificant amount of gun deaths, right? It's definitely something that I think people should participate in and create the right enforcement culture around, within the Canadian government.
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This is an election year in Canada. We're seeing division and polarization across the country. What would your message be to Canadian politicians?
I would say the same message to Canadian politicians that I would to American politicians. First of all, stop pointing the finger at each other and not solving the issues as a result. Stop attacking each other, and start attacking these sources of evil together. Don't blame people for making other people live in segregated communities; start attacking segregation. Don't blame other people for their inaction on gun violence; start asking why is gun violence occurring in the first place. Start asking, as Canadians, what can we do to solve this problem? We need leaders who can unite — not divide in order to stay in power.
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