Americans want stricter gun safety measures. Gen Z will help us get there.

Two years ago, guns became the leading cause of death for children and adolescents.

This is why I usually have little interest in reading yet another survey or poll about what we think about gun violence in our country. What are we doing about it?

The numbers fluctuate percentage-wise, but we already know that most Americans want stricter gun safety measures. We also know that, despite the growing number of mass shootings, most elected Republicans in Congress and state legislatures don’t care how much we want to protect ourselves, our families and our communities. If you think I’m being unnecessarily partisan, check out their voting records on gun safety and get back to me.

Listen to young people about guns

Better yet, let’s spend a few minutes with the findings of a new survey on gun violence that I do think is worthy of my time, and yours. This is one by Project Unloaded, which focuses on lifting the voices of today’s Generation Z. It partnered with Global Strategy Group and surveyed 1,000 people ages 13 to 25 to hear what they had to say about guns and gun violence.

High school junior: It's up to us students to help make schools safer from gun violence

Among the findings:

►Most young people have had a personal experience with gun violence. The number jumps to more than 60% for those who are Black and Latino. Only a quarter of Black children say they feel very safe in school. Include all children, and it’s only a third.

►When asked to list their biggest concerns for our country, gun violence comes before climate change and abortion rights.

►When presented with the facts about gun risks, young people’s commonly held belief that guns make us safer shifts by 17 points. The more they know, the more willing they are to reject the myth that gun ownership saves lives.

March for Our Lives rally in support of gun control in Washington, D.C., on June 11, 2022.
March for Our Lives rally in support of gun control in Washington, D.C., on June 11, 2022.

Project Unloaded founder Nina Vinik addressed this last point in a recent column for the Chicago Tribune:

“Teens are on track to become the largest generation of consumers in the next few years, making them incredibly valuable to the gun industry. Manufacturers are pouring tremendous resources into campaigns to use the fears and insecurities of young people to convince them to buy guns for protection. But there’s hope. Most young people say they’re interested in learning more about gun risks. And when presented with the facts in a clear, non-polarizing way, their minds can shift.”

'Change can come from culture rather than policy'

As a college professor, I’ve spent enough time with Gen Zers to know when to get out of their way and let them speak for themselves. This is why I interviewed 19-year-old Karly Scholz, who is on the Project Unloaded’s youth council.

Scholz is a sophomore at the University of Virginia. In 2018, she was a high school freshman in Madison, Wisconsin, when a gunman killed 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. She wasn’t alive for the mass shooting at Columbine High School in in Littleton, Colorado, in 1999, she said, and was too young to be aware of the tragedy of the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. But the Parkland massacre awakened her activism.

“Most of the (student) victims were freshmen, and I was a freshman at the time. Both of our high schools were public. No one expected it to happen, no one saw it coming. But it can happen to anyone and can happen anywhere, and gun violence does not differentiate its victims.”

Karly Scholz, a sophomore at the University of Virginia, is on the youth council of Project Unloaded, which focuses on lifting the voices of today’s Generation Z.
Karly Scholz, a sophomore at the University of Virginia, is on the youth council of Project Unloaded, which focuses on lifting the voices of today’s Generation Z.

When Parkland students launched March for Our Lives, Scholz became its Wisconsin state director. She learned a lot, she said.

“March for Our Lives is very policy focused and politicized in a lot of ways. I thought there was a gap in the conversation where we needed to be talking about the culture of gun policy. Not necessarily the policies around it, but the way people interact with guns in daily life, the way guns are shown in our media and the way the news talks about guns. I wanted to talk about how change can come from the culture, rather than policy.”

When Project Unloaded went live about a year ago, she readily became involved. “I was very excited that other people saw that gap and took on that role – that change can come from culture rather than policy.”

'I don't want it to happen again': Even our babies know we're failing to protect them from guns

Always thinking about gun violence

Scholz repeatedly insisted that her activism is not political. I tried to prepare her for how she will be attacked as partisan, nonetheless. She was undeterred.

“I found in my work that young people are open-minded and are willing to hear what we have to say. … When presented with the facts and risks of guns, young people in all demographics shifted their views, which I think is a really hopeful data point. That’s my answer: There is a debate surrounding it, but when you look at the facts there really isn’t much room for interpretation or debate. Guns make us less safe.”

Opinion alerts: Get columns from your favorite columnists + expert analysis on top issues, delivered straight to your device through the USA TODAY app. Don't have the app? Download it for free from your app store.

There’s also this fact that Scholz emphasized, repeatedly: Her generation is always thinking about gun violence.

“Everyone knows what it’s like to get updates on phones and hear about another shooting. We think about it all the time. We fear gun violence at schools and in movie theaters and in malls, especially when a recent incident is fresh in your mind. But we’re far more likely to be shot at home or walking home from school or the movie theater.”

She’s putting her faith in her fellow Gen Zers: Give them facts, and they will change the culture of guns.

I don’t know if Karly Scholz is right to be so optimistic, but I do know that our collective surrender to the culture of gun violence is all wrong. So, I'll put my faith in her. And sooner than later, I hope, Gen Zers will use their other superpower in this fight to save lives.

They’ll vote.

USA TODAY columnist Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize winner whose novel, “The Daughters of Erietown,” is a New York Times bestseller. You can reach her at or on Twitter: @ConnieSchultz

More from Connie Schultz:

Knowing when it's time to say goodbye, not because I don't love – but because I do

COVID-19 is still deadly real. Why do we allow disinformation to persist?

I was not raised to admire the queen, but Queen Elizabeth inspired me nonetheless

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gen Z grew up in culture of gun violence, listen to them about guns