Students defy many of their schools to ‘walk out’ in support of gun control

Some schools have threatened to discipline any students that protest.

Junior Nigel Wallace comforts freshman Aleyana Pina during a student walkout to protest gun violence in schools and demand new gun control laws at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Cambridge, MA. CREDIT: Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Junior Nigel Wallace comforts freshman Aleyana Pina during a student walkout to protest gun violence in schools and demand new gun control laws at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Cambridge, MA. CREDIT: Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Students across the nation protested gun violence on Wednesday by walking out of their schools for a 17-minute protest. That 17 minutes represents the 17 people who died in a February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Students left their schools and universities at 10 a.m. in their local time zones as part of the National School Walkout organized by the Women’s March Youth Empower group.

An estimated 2,500 schools have planned walkouts.

According to the walkout website, participants support legislation in Congress to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines, expand background checks to all gun sales, implement a gun violence restraining order law, and stop the militarization of federal, state, and local law enforcement.

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Participants oppose the Conceal Carry Reciprocity Act, a bill that would allow someone with a concealed carry permit in one state to carry their guns into states with stricter gun control laws. Advocates for survivors of domestic violence say such a policy would allow abusers to more easily stalk and kill their victims.

Those who protested on Wednesday also oppose “any legislation that would aim to fortify our schools with more guns.” Andrea Colon, a senior at Rockaway Park High School for Environmental Sustainability in New York, told CNN, that guns in schools create “this sense of criminalization that no one really wants to feel. School is supposed to be a place where you go and feel safe, you feel supported, and that’s not how you feel when you have to go through metal detectors, and you’re patted down because you have too many bobby pins in your hair or because you didn’t take your belt off and you have to be wanded.”

Although 56 percent of Americans opposed arming teachers, according to an NBC News/Survey Monkey poll, the Trump administration has proposed providing school staff with training to use firearms. Many states are also considering bills aimed at arming teachers and other school staff. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, a group that advocates for gun control, there have been 29 incidents of guns fired near schools in 2018, so far. A string of recent incidents at schools involving school staff misfiring their guns or leaving their guns unattended have further highlighted the dangers of arming teachers.

Over the past few days, school districts have all responded differently to the walkouts. Some schools have allowed students to walk out but included a police presence and others have forbade students from walking out, directing students to other activities, such as writing letters to politicians. One school district in Texas threatened to suspend students from schools for three days if they walked out of school for the gun violence protest.

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“We will discipline no matter if it is one, fifty, or five hundred students involved,” a letter from Needville Independent School District Superintendent Curtis Rhodes reads.

But threats like these haven’t stopped many students from walking out of their schools on Wednesday, regardless of the consequences.

In Washington, D.C., hundreds of students from the city and surrounding area gathered on the National Mall and the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Politicians like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also made an appearance, encouraging the students to keep protesting, because their voices are “leading the nation.”

Many students in attendance cited the resiliency of the student activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as their inspiration.

“I think that student activism is something that has been on the rise for a while and seeing these children take it to a more national scale is really inspiring. You can go out, you can stand up to large organizations like the NRA, which is something that we don’t always get told,” said Amelie Gerber, a 16-year-old student at the Washington International School. “We’re always told, ‘oh you’re kids, you can’t really get things done,’ so seeing these kids do that after…grieving is thoroughly inspiring.”

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Other students voiced nothing but disdain for the politicians and organizations that have allowed gun violence to continue by failing to propose gun control policies.

“An 18-year-old former student is allowed to get a gun. We’re not even allowed to drink at 18. Yet somehow we’re allowed to get military-grade weapons,” said Gia Chatterjee, a 16-year-old student at Churchill High School in Montgomery County, Maryland. “I just think it is crazy that this is happening in our country. This is what our country chooses stand for. This is what our government is allowing to happen? It’s crazy.”

This is a developing story and will be updated with more details.

With additional reporting by Rebekah Entralgo.