The first thing I notice about David Hogg is that he seems exhausted.
Two weeks ago, the 17-year-old high school senior and his classmates survived a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale. The shooter, a former student named Nikolas Cruz, killed 17 of his former classmates and teachers with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle on Feb. 14. In the days that followed, Hogg and several other students — still traumatized from what they had experienced and grieving the deaths of their friends — emerged as the nation’s unlikely leading voices on gun reform.
Hogg wasn’t home when we arrived at his house on Tuesday evening. His mother, Rebeca Boldrick, said he was dropping off chocolates at his friend Emma’s house. “Emma, ‘The Badass,’” she said, referring to Emma González, another Stoneman Douglas student who gave an impassioned speech at an anti-gun rally in Fort Lauderdale just four days after the shooting.
The video below contains graphic footage.
Boldrick didn’t know we’d be coming — her son forgot to tell her — but she welcomed us anyway. She didn't seem surprised to be greeting unannounced reporters and a film crew — their house has clearly become a whirlwind of activity since the shooting. While we waited for Hogg, Boldrick described the family’s life over the past two weeks as a blur of interviews and television appearances. We could set our cameras up anywhere, she said, but ABC would be bringing them dinner soon before yet another interview, so they just needed a place to eat. Boldrick offered me water, snacks, and a shot of whiskey after I told her I was stressed out from my 45-minute drive on I-95. She told us that some of Hogg’s friends had stayed at their house after the gun-control rally in Tallahassee last week; now those same kids were meeting with Sen. Bernie Sanders in Washington, D.C. The living room television was set to CNN. Sometimes Hogg’s classmates would appear on screen. I noticed a funeral program for a Stoneman Douglas student on the kitchen counter.
Hogg was in the middle of a phone call when he walked through the door, telling someone that no, he is not a crisis actor, and no, he won’t be appearing on InfoWars. He devoured two sizable chocolate-chip muffins before our camera started rolling — on top of barely sleeping, he said he had barely been eating — then asked his dad to pass him another.
“I’m beyond exhausted,” he said. “I get to a certain point where I just get so tired that I keep going. It creates a positive feedback loop in some ways — the more stress and work I put on me, the more stress and work I can deal with.”
Parkland is pleasant in the way all Florida suburbs above a certain tax bracket are pleasant. There are palm trees, Publix grocery stores, gated communities, and golf courses. It is practically indistinguishable from the Tampa suburbs where I grew up, or the Orlando area, which experienced its own mass shooting less than two years ago.
Hogg lives in one of those gated communities with his mother, Rebecca, a teacher, his father, Kevin, a retired FBI agent, and his younger sister, Lauren. Before the shooting, Hogg was a student reporter with the Sun-Sentinel’s TeenLink, a program for high school journalists. He’s due to graduate high school in a few months; college admissions decisions will be coming in soon.
Hogg’s future plans are in the back of his mind for now. For the past two weeks, he poured all of his energy into preventing what happened at his high school from happening again. As soon as he got home that day, he said, he biked the three miles back to campus to start reporting on what happened. Three days after the rally, Stoneman students traveled to Tallahassee for a massive anti-gun rally. That night, some of those students grilled politicians on their stance on gun control at a CNN town hall. Dozens of media appearances soon followed. In the past four days, Hogg has appeared on CNN, NBC, ABC, and MSNBC. He has amassed more than 300,000 followers on Twitter.
Hogg and some of his classmates teamed up to found Never Again MSD, a student-led group to fight for stricter gun legislation. The students are in the middle of planning a rally in Washington, D.C. on March 24, which they’ve called the March for Our Lives. Their ultimate goal is to get Congress to enact stricter gun regulations — Hogg specifies it has to be a federal mandate, otherwise people “can just be like, ‘I’m going to go to Alabama and buy a gun’” even if they’re barred from buying one in Florida. He wants limits on magazine sizes, a 10 percent tax on all firearm sales, universal background checks, and the age requirement for firearm sales to be raised to 21 (Cruz, at 19, purchased his firearms legally in Florida, where the age requirement for purchase is 18). Hogg wants people with criminal backgrounds, especially domestic-violence convictions, to be prohibited from buying guns, as well as similar limitations for those who are mentally ill. “I would like to see more mental health care spending to ensure that people like the shooter at Stoneman Douglas are not able to get these guns,” he said, his anger softening for a moment. “The shooter at Douglas was somebody that honestly… They needed help. That’s really what they needed.”
But, he clarified, he doesn’t feel like he’s the one who should be calling for this. “I shouldn't have to! I’m 17,” he said, but he and his classmates feel that adults — both voters and policymakers — have failed them. “When your old-ass parent is like, ‘I don’t know how to send an iMessage,’ and you’re just like, ‘Give me the fucking phone and let me handle it.’ Sadly, that’s what we have to do with our government; our parents don’t know how to use a fucking democracy, so we have to.”
Hogg places some of the blame on voters, but his primary targets are pro-gun politicians and the NRA, both of whom he thinks care more about money than saving lives. “It just makes me think what sick fuckers out there want to continue to sell more guns, murder more children, and honestly just get reelected,” Hogg said. “What type of shitty person does that? They could have blood from children splattered all over their faces and they wouldn’t take action, because they all still see these dollar signs.”
Sometimes, instead of speaking to us, Hogg addressed politicians directly. To Scott: “You’re kind of like Voldemort at this point. You should just retire, because you aren’t going to get elected to Senate.” To Rubio: “What about the $176,000 you took for those 17 people’s blood?” To Benjamin Kelly, a former aide to State Rep. Shawn Harrison, who accused Hogg of being a crisis actor: “Hey, if you’re out there, fuck you.”
Hogg and his classmates say that their elected officials “don’t give a fuck” about them. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, he says, is an opportunist who’s just trying to boost his rumored Senate bid. Sen. Marco Rubio, who in a CNN town hall after the shooting was unable to say that he wouldn’t continue to accept NRA money, is a charlatan who only cares about staying in office. When these officials express their condolences or send their thoughts and prayers, Hogg doesn’t believe them. “You can’t lie; you’ve got to feel it, you’ve got to feel for these children’s lives,” he said. “Those fuckers aren’t getting reelected.”
The most common criticisms of Hogg and his classmates — aside from the baseless, yet widely spread, claims that they’re crisis actors who were paid to fake a shooting — is that they’re too young, too inexperienced, and too vulgar to be setting the tone of the national gun debate. There’s no denying that Hogg is young, and it would be hard to claim he’s unbiased or dispassionate. His anger was palpable from the moment he walked into the room. He said “fuck” so many times during our interview that he jokingly said he hoped it wouldn’t be televised, “because you guys are fucked if the FCC is regulating this.”
Since the shooting, Florida has instated various measures. Scott approved a $500 million school safety program, which includes assigning school resource officers or other law-enforcement officials to public schools and equipping them with metal detectors, bulletproof glass, and steel doors. The state House will soon vote on a measure to arm teachers. What Florida hasn’t considered is a motion to ban semi-automatic rifles, the firearm most commonly used in such incidents.
To Hogg, these measures are vastly and existentially insufficient. “I don’t want to see another teacher with a gun,” Hogg said. “I don’t even want more school resource officers. Do you know the racial discrepancies they have against African-American and Latino students? We’re going to create a system where we widen the school-to-prison pipeline.”
Hogg and his classmates’ righteous anger and lofty ideals help explain the swell of action — protests, media appearances, and the planned rally on March 24 — that has occurred since the Parkland shooting. A common refrain after mass shootings is that if the 2012 massacre of second-graders at Sandy Hook didn’t convince Americans we need gun reform, then nothing will — but Hogg and the other Stoneman Douglas students have managed to keep the national spotlight on their movement for well over two weeks now, even if is one that has been largely spearheaded by teenagers, most of whom are still too young to vote (Hogg turns 18 in April and plans on voting in the midterm elections) but who have grown up in an increasingly politicized climate. “We’ve grown up around Columbine. We’ve grown up with the recession. We grew up in this police state,” Hogg said.
What remains to be seen is how long the momentum can last. A CBS video crew waited in the wings while we conducted our interview and transformed the family’s otherwise typical living room, with its big, comfortable-looking couches and warm decor, into a mini television studio by the time we started packing up. Another film crew arrived sometime during our interview; they had brought the family dinner from Panera Bread. As we walked out the door — quietly, so our footsteps wouldn’t be picked up by the mics — and whispered our goodbyes to Hogg’s parents, the 17-year-old got ready for another interview.