David Hogg: embodying both the activist and the college kid


Jack Muscatello

David Hogg, a gun-control activist who survived the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, speaks at a Quinnipiac University Democrats event on April 20.

Cat Murphy, News Editor

David Hogg was a 17-year-old senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, when a 19-year-old gunman murdered 14 of his classmates and three staff members with an AR-15 assault rifle on Valentine’s Day in 2018.

Five years, two months and six days after finding himself at the center of the national gun control debate, the March for Our Lives co-founder stood centerstage in the Quinnipiac University Center for Communications, Computing and Engineering’s Mt. Carmel Auditorium.

Sporting a blueish-gray suit with a red-and-blue Quinnipiac Democrats pin affixed to his left lapel, the now 23-year-old gun control activist addressed a group of more than four dozen Quinnipiac students and faculty on April 20.

It’s not simply about whether or not you’re for or against guns. It’s about the fact that we are all for safety and responsibility.

— David Hogg, March for Our Lives co-founder

“No fewer than 200,000 Americans have been mercilessly slaughtered since the shooting at my high school,” Hogg said, his solemn words echoing throughout the otherwise silent auditorium. “Do I need to lay out all the pros and cons of placing children into tiny caskets and laying them to rest forever?”

However, Hogg acknowledged the logistical impracticality of collecting every firearm in the U.S.

“You mean to tell me that we’re coming to take 400 million guns?” Hogg asked rhetorically. “That’s bullshit, frankly.”

And, rejecting claims that he seeks to derail American gun culture, Hogg clarified that he aims to weaken the financial and political power of the National Rifle Association.

“We’re Americans — (guns are) a common part of our culture,” said Hogg, who began shooting in the fourth grade and continues to shoot guns competitively for the Harvard University skeet shooting team. “What isn’t — and shouldn’t be — a common part of our culture is the irresponsibility that the NRA has come to represent.” 

Hogg advocated for what he termed “common sense” gun reform policies: background checks, red flag laws, waiting periods and mandatory training.

“It’s not simply about whether or not you’re for or against guns,” Hogg said. “It’s about the fact that we are all for safety and responsibility.”

The college senior also spoke passionately about the power Generation Z has to reclaim the gun control narrative from gun-rights activists.

“The response after Parkland was incredible, but Parkland should be the rule and not the exception,” Hogg said forcefully, emphasizing each word as he spoke. “I don’t want Gen Alpha — which is the one that comes after Z — to be talking about this, and we have the possibility of ensuring that they don’t have to.”

Five years after surviving a 2018 school shooting that killed 14 of his classmates, March for Our Lives co-founder David Hogg discusses gun reform at Quinnipiac University on April 20. (Jack Muscatello)

But the persona Hogg embodied on stage in CCE-101 that evening contrasted that of the 20-something history major who woke up at 5 a.m. that morning to complete a six-page paper he procrastinated writing.

“What you sometimes see on TV is not how he always is,” said Drew Sullivan, senior vice president at the American Program Bureau and Hogg’s speaking agent, on a Zoom call with the Chronicle April 19.

When Hogg joined the call from his phone, he was not wearing the suit and tie Quinnipiac students would see him in the next evening. Rather, he donned Apple AirPods and a maroon crewneck emblazoned with the NASA logo, speaking to the Chronicle as he ate his breakfast.

Hogg’s 40-minute keynote address itself embodied the dichotomy between the activist and the college student.

An imperfect but genuine public speaker, Hogg stood largely stationary at the podium as he read from his iPad. Scrolling with his right hand as he gesticulated with his left, Hogg at times lost his place in his prepared speech and filled in the blanks with ad-libbed remarks.

Hogg’s unscripted comments — many of which featured swears and the word “whatever” — tended to be more characteristic of the college kid born in 2000 than of the veteran gun-control activist.

“Fuck anyone that says these gun laws don’t work,” Hogg said. “Pardon my French.”

Rhythmically tapping his fingers on the table as he answered one-on-one questions in CCE-102 after the event, Hogg also unconsciously pulled at his neatly manicured beard hairs and fidgeted with the black necktie knotted beneath the collar of his white dress shirt.

But the activist also seemed to carry with him the weight of his five years of advocacy.

Hogg, who at one point referenced his experience with post-traumatic stress disorder, spoke openly during his speech about the death threats and conspiracy theories to which he and his family have been subjected.

Simultaneously, four Quinnipiac Public Safety officers and an undercover Hamden police officer manned the auditorium doors.

Paul Cappuzzo, the outgoing president of the Quinnipiac Democrats who organized the event, said Hogg’s notoriety among anti-gun control activists prompted the university to implement additional safety precautions.

“He’s a very public figure,” said Cappuzzo, a senior political science and economics double major. “And because of that, we had to take security measures to make sure things would be safe.”

Although the Giffords Law Center ranks Connecticut’s gun control laws among the strongest in the U.S., lawmakers only began reforming the state’s gun safety laws after a 20-year-old gunman murdered 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.

Do I need to lay out all the pros and cons of placing children into tiny caskets and laying them to rest forever?

— David Hogg, March for Our Lives co-founder

And yet, the Hamden Police Department arrested two 17-year-olds and two 18-year-olds on gun-related charges between December 2022 and March 2023 alone.

Just over two months before Hogg spoke at Quinnipiac — and only eight miles from where he stood in the Mt. Carmel Auditorium — Hamden police arrested an 18-year-old high school student for carrying a loaded handgun with a large-capacity magazine on school grounds.

But while Hogg survived the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history, school shootings are far from unique to high schools.

To the contrary, the deadliest school shooting in American history took place when a 23-year-old gunman massacred 32 college students and one faculty member at Virginia Tech in April 2007.

And, following the Feb. 13, 2023, mass shooting at Michigan State University that killed three students and wounded five others, Quinnipiac officials moved to implement active shooter training for students.

The university’s 14-minute “Run, Hide, Fight” active shooter training course advises students to resort to hiding and fighting only when the situation renders evacuation impossible.

Notably, the emergency guides posted in every Quinnipiac classroom instruct individuals to “stay in your office or classroom” and “encourage others to remain, rather than trying to leave the building” during an active shooter or violent intruder event.

But Hogg compared the “Run, Hide, Fight” training universities like Quinnipiac offer their students and faculty to the Cold War-era “duck and cover” drills that schoolchildren practiced to prepare for a possible nuclear attack.

“They really are putting a bandage on a bullet,” Hogg told the Chronicle. “We can run, hide, fight all we want — people are still getting killed.”