Nothing brings people together like cheap breakfast food and a shared cause. Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, known collectively as the Parkland Students, met James Shaw Jr., the man who stopped a shooter with an assault rifle at Tennessee Waffle House, on Saturday morning. They had a meal at a Denny's, and photos posted by the students' advocacy group, March For Our Lives, were met with praise online.
Shaw Jr. stopped an armed gunman in April, and his actions kept the number of dead lower than many shootings. "He is the hero here," Metro Nashville Police spokesman Don Aaron said of Shaw Jr.'s actions at the time. It's a label Shaw Jr. has resisted, saying his actions were his attempt to stay alive. “I was just trying to get myself out. I saw the opportunity and pretty much took it," Shaw Jr. told The Tennessean.
Shaw was quick to label the Parkland students as heroes in his tweets following their meeting. Shaw Jr. called Emma González, a woman whose fans include Kanye West, "one my heroes" and posed with a blue checkered teddy bear.
The Parkland students have become vigorous gun violence prevention activists since surviving the shooting that took the lives of 14 of their classmates. It seems perfect that they would eventually meet Shaw Jr.
The group's official Twitter account also posted group shots of Shaw Jr. and about a dozen young activists. A few wore shorts with the blue and white March For Our Lives logo.
Following the group's March 24 mega-march in Washington, D.C., the young activists shifted gears toward the group's four concrete goals: universal background checks, modernizing ATF background database, funding gun violence research on a federal level and banning assault weapons ban.
Their work is being noticed by the National Rifle Association, which recently appointed a new president. NRA President Oliver North, known for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s, said the student activists have "confused" Americans" in an interview with the Washington Times. “What they did very successfully with a frontal assault, and now intimidation and harassment and lawbreaking, is they confused the American people,” North said.
The students haven't let the NRA's criticism affect their work. Instead, they've met with people like Shaw Jr.
Shaw Jr. also took a selfie with David Hogg, a Parkland shooting survivor who has drawn ire from conservatives for his gun violence prevention advocacy. You might remember Hogg's tear-inducing speech from the March For Our Lives event in Washington, D.C. in March. Other Parkland Students from Saturday's breakfast also spoke at the march alongside Hogg.
"We will come together. We will get rid of these public servants that only serve the gun lobby, and we will save lives. You are those heroes," Hogg said in his speech at the march. "We will not stop until every man, every woman, every child, and every American can live without fear of gun violence."
It seems like surviving a mass shooting in America created natural bonds between the students and Shaw Jr. The students of March For Our Lives have been meeting with other activists and survivors since the shooting. The group is encouraging the formation of local activism chapters as well as voter registration ahead of the November congressional elections.
It will be interesting to see where Shaw Jr. will take his advocacy for gun violence prevention. During his meeting with the Parkland students on Saturday, he wore a black shirt with the word "live" scrawled on it, and it seemed particularly apt for the situation. Talking to the students, Shaw Jr. later tweeted, was "a great joy."