Timed to coincide with the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre, students left classes at 10:00 a.m. local time, many waving placards with slogans including “I should be worried about grades, not guns,” and “#Enough.”
Organizers said students from more than 2,600 schools and institutions planned to take part.
“We’re here to say no more shootings,” said Olivia Pfeil, a 16-year-old sophomore outside Oconomowoc High School in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, holding a sign bearing the names of mass shooting victims. “We’re expecting change or come next election cycle we will support politicians who are listening to the voices of the youth.”
It was the second student walkout since the Feb. 14 massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and the emergence of a national student movement to end gun violence and toughen restrictions on firearms sales.
Many of the demonstrators wore orange, a color that has come to represent the movement against gun violence, as they observed a 13-second silence in honor of the 13 killed at Columbine.
Outside the White House, protesters sat in silence while they listened to the names of gun violence victims read aloud.
“I’m trying to get an education, but I still have a small fear that someone will come in with a gun,” said Ayanna Rhodes, 14, who walked out of Washington International School. “(The Columbine killings) happened like 20 years ago, and we are still getting mass shootings in schools.”
Two gunman went on a shooting rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, leaving 12 students and a teacher dead before killing themselves. The massacre stunned the nation but since then, school shootings have become commonplace.
Even as students prepared for their protest on Friday morning, news began trickling out that one person was wounded in a shooting at a high school near Ocala, Florida.
The latest gun violence unfolded about 225 miles (360 km)northwest of the Parkland high school, where two months ago a former student killed 17 people in the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history.
Despite widespread revulsion over the school shootings, the issue of gun control remains sensitive in Colorado and across the country, where the Second Amendment of the Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms.
‘OPPOSE THEM AT EVERY STEP’
Dudley Brown, president of the Colorado-based National Association for Gun Rights, said the gun-control movement seeks to have the government take away constitutional rights.
“The main objective of these students is to ban firearms completely, and confiscate the firearms of law-abiding Americans,” Brown said. “We will oppose them at every step.”
In some conservative school districts, administrators told students they could face disciplinary steps if they walked out.
In suburban Dallas, a dozen students dressed in orange chanted “End gun violence!” as they huddled in a parking lot across the street from North Garland High School.
Freshman Victoria Fierro, 14, said school administrators blocked the doors when about 50 students tried to leave, so a small group exited through a side door.
“They told us we would get in trouble if we walk out, and we told them it was a peaceful protest, we’re not causing any damage,” Fierro said. “This is over a serious topic that people are pushing aside.”
The principal declined to answer questions from Reuters.
The latest national rally came more than a month after tens of thousands of students from some 3,000 schools participated in the #ENOUGH National School Walkout to demand that lawmakers seek tighter gun control regulations.
It also followed “March For Our Lives” rallies in cities across the United States on March 24 that were some of the biggest U.S. youth demonstrations in decades, with hundreds of thousands of young Americans and their supporters taking to the streets.
It was not immediately clear whether Friday’s turnout would match those of the earlier protests.
On the evening before the walkouts, Colorado gun control activists rallied near Columbine High School.
Carlos Rodriguez, a 17-year-old junior from Marjory Stoneman, traveled to Columbine for the anniversary and said he found a sense of solidarity in the outpouring of support.
“That’s the only thing that’s keeping us Douglas students alive right now: the distraction of fighting for our rights and advocating for our lives,” Rodriguez told Reuters. “It’s the one thing keeping us hopeful, it’s the one thing keeping us from not being able to sleep at night.”
There was no walkout at Columbine, which has not held classes on April 20 since the massacre. Students were encouraged to take part in community service instead.
Banner/Thumbnail Credits: Reuters