Nearly 120 students at Sheridan Junior High School and Sheridan High School participated Friday morning in a school walkout, joining thousands of others across the country. Local students took their cue from high schoolers in Parkland, Florida, who started the grassroots movement in favor of tighter gun regulation after a February school shooting where 17 were killed.

The campaign has gained support around the U.S., evidenced by a similar walkout last month and the March for Our Lives, which occurred in Sheridan and around the country last month.

People can and should debate the reasoning behind student protests, but why discourage their right to protest? Those who argue that students aren’t old enough to form their own conclusions ignore history, albeit most other protests have come from college students. In 1960, four African-American college students sat at a lunch counter in a segregated Woolworth’s in North Carolina and asked to be served. Protests against the Vietnam War began on college campuses in the 1960s and eventually spread across the country.

Telling students that their voices don’t matter or that their efforts will change nothing only discourages their participation in government. Apathy will continue to be one of the biggest threats to the concept of government of the people, by the people and for the people; don’t encourage it.

Yes, the walkouts caused a disruption for about 30 minutes in an otherwise regular school day and may lead to dissent among classmates. That is the point. If everyone agreed, why protest? If protests didn’t create some disruption, what would be their purpose?

Recent polls have shown bipartisan support for some of the measures being proposed by student protestors — preventing felons and people with mental health issues from purchasing firearms and restricting people younger than 21 from buying guns. The same polls show opposition on both sides to a ban on gun ownership — 93 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Democrats. 

Widespread support does not mean the solutions being proposed are beyond criticism, but resorting to name-calling and insults doesn’t lead to anything constructive. If you want to debate ideas, engage with them and address them accurately and substantively. Mischaracterizing people on the side with which you disagree only creates ideological entrenchment.

Bring civility to discussions about gun law reform. Listen for understanding. Consider a perspective different than your own. Encourage young people to keep using their voices and challenge them in a respectful manner. Sheridan can do better. We all can do better.