Among the students who gathered at the Arizona Capitol to demand gun control on Wednesday, Jacob Martinez stood out. For one thing, he was the only teenager wearing a suit jacket. For another thing, he was quite possibly the only Republican.
Up until Wednesday afternoon, Martinez was the chairman of the Arizona Teenage Republicans, a group that has chapters at schools across the state and organizes events like an overnight trip to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
On Wednesday, however, the 16-year-old announced to a crowd of reporters, activists, and lawmakers that he'd be stepping down until the Republican Party takes action to prevent gun violence.
"For those of you who will attack me because of this decision, let me remind you that I am not against the Second Amendment," he said. "I am not against people owning guns. But I am against students being gunned down because we don't like to get together, work across the lines, and figure out these issues like human beings."
Martinez, who attends Dobson High in Mesa, has been active in politics for several years. He volunteered for Ted Cruz's presidential campaign, and helped out with Kelli Ward's last Senate run. Arriving at the state Capitol on Wednesday, however, he was disappointed to find out that Republican legislators weren't interested in listening to teenagers who'd come to talk about gun control.
"Instead of facing us, standing in the chamber, and listening to our message, they retreated to the member’s lounge," he said. "Speaker Mesnard denied the request for a 17-minute moment of silence even though there's nothing slated for a vote, and no real agenda for the day."
On top of that, he added, most Republicans in the Legislature refused to meet with students once they learned that the subject of the conversation would be gun reform. Attempts to meet with Governor Doug Ducey were equally unsuccessful.
Despite giving up his official title, Martinez told Phoenix New Times that he's still a Republican because he believes in limited government and fiscal responsibility.
"That’s what Republicans and Democrats should be arguing over — not same-sex marriage and gun reform," he said.
And he doesn't see anything contradictory about supporting the Second Amendment while also advocating for stricter regulations about who can and can't buy a gun.
"We’re not trying to take away people’s guns; we’re not trying to infringe on their rights," he said. "But we need safety reforms to keep the people of our country safe. If that means that the party disowns me, then so be it. But they’re missing out on the next generation if they do that."
He rattled off a list of the changes that he wants to see. "Universal background checks. A ban on bump stocks. And making sure people with histories of mental illness and domestic violence can’t obtain guns."
Like the most of the teenagers who opted to spend part of their spring break protesting gun violence, Martinez was inspired by high school students in Parkland, Florida, who became activists after a mass shooting at their school. Two weeks ago, he posted a video on Facebook talking about his plan to take part in the March For Our Lives.
It quickly gathered hundreds of negative comments, some from Republicans he knows and others from complete strangers.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
"It ranged from people cussing me out, to telling me what a disappointment I am, to comparing me to [Parkland shooter] Nikolas Cruz," he recalled. "It’s rough, it’s hard, but at the same time I know I’m doing something that I believe in."
Martinez — who said that he will "absolutely" run for office one day — is well aware that he'll likely face even more abuse over his decision to step down as the head of the Arizona Teenage Republicans. But he feels strongly that gun reform needs to be a bipartisan issue.
"We shouldn’t reject it because the Democrats propose it," he said. "We need to work hard to enact positive change, and not do what Republicans are doing — which is shutting it out, because of the money."
And if Republican lawmakers continue to ignore student activists, they do so at their own peril, he warned. "We’re the future of this party. And if they want to go anywhere, they need to make sure they’re not scaring away the young people."