by Karen Marcus, Foothills Blogger
“Children are dying who could have been future leaders, scientists, or doctors.”
—Cameron Montague, Sophomore at Poudre High School
Over the weekend, hundreds of thousands or people participated across the U.S. and internationally in “March for Our Lives” protests to demand stricter gun laws in America. These events were spurred by actions taken by students in the wake of the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
On Wednesday, March 14 — one month after the Parkland shooting — students across the U.S. walked out of their classrooms to honor the 17 victims killed in that event, and to push lawmakers to enact new gun restrictions. Students from elementary, middle, and high schools — as well as some colleges — participated by marching, holding signs, and speaking about their experiences.
Fort Collins students had heard about plans for the national walkout, but the date fell during their spring break; so they scheduled their own walkout and rally in Old Town Square on Tuesday, February 27. The student-led demonstration attracted about 1,500 students and supporters, who carried signs, chanted, and engaged in a moment of silence for the Parkland victims.
Many Reasons to Participate
Among the attendees were several young people from the Foothills Unitarian Church community. At a discussion about the event with Reverend Sean Neil-Barron on Sunday, March 4, the students said their reasons for attending the walkout included wanting safer schools and stricter gun laws. One asked, “Why should I have to learn to run for my life?” As part of the first generation that regularly participates in “lockdown drills,” they noted that lawmakers haven’t been listening to adults about this issue, so maybe they’ll listen to kids.
Cameron Montague, a sophomore at Poudre High School, said she never hesitated about participating in the walkout. “Social justice and activism have been a big part of my life,” she commented. She started the walk from Poudre to Old Town with friends, who had similar reasons for participating. “We all share strong beliefs about change, having our voices heard, and doing our part,” Montague said.
Piper Levinson, an 8th-grader at Lesher Middle School, participated in the walkout because it was specifically for kids. In addition, she said, it was conveniently close to home, and she was able to easily learn the details about how to participate. Levinson supports guns for sport, and may even try them when she’s older, but noted, “It’s ridiculous that there aren’t more restrictions — ridiculous that people can get an assault rifle with no mental health check.” She pointed out that, by at least one count, just this year, there have already been 18 gun-related incidents, and she finds herself wondering, “Am I next?”
Poudre High School junior Ted Davies had similar reasons for participating. He said, “The shooting in Florida just repeated the trend of school shootings using AR-15 assault weapons. I don’t believe the general population should be able to purchase them. They’re designed to kill people, and ordinary citizens don’t need them.” He would like to know why Congress hasn’t done anything yet, and would like to tell Senator Cory Gardner, “You need to take a progressive stance on gun control because the people you represent take that stance, and your job is to represent their views, not yours.” He hoped his presence at the event would contribute to getting these messages across.
Another big reason for participation in the event was a sense of fear that underlies students’ every-day lives at school. Both Montague and Davies said it’s become mostly a back-of-mind issue for them throughout their school days, but they do think about it at certain times, such as if they see someone unfamiliar at school. They ask themselves if that person could have a concealed gun. Recently, said Montague, a lockdown occurred at her school because of a disturbance in a nearby neighborhood. When teachers were asked over the school’s intercom system to check their email and close the blinds, but no explanation was given, she became genuinely afraid and thought, “This could be it.”
Drills for kids used to involve only instructions to “hide and be quiet,” but now they’re also instructed to “fight” if necessary. Davies said, “That possibility used to scare me, but now I’ve heard it so often that it doesn’t really register.”
A New Paradigm
The purpose of the walkout was to make student voices heard, as the people who would be most directly affected by a school shooting, and as soon-to-be voters. Students at the group discussion said their ideal scenario would be a world where everyone feels safe, where students don’t fear being hurt at school, and where people truly listen to each other. They noted that their intention isn’t to take guns away completely, but to impose limitations on who has access to guns, and to eliminate access to military-style weapons.
Montague said she understands why people want guns, but, “The current situation is not working. Children are dying who could have been future leaders, scientists, or doctors. Our generation is the future, and we’re being killed in the places where we’re supposed to be learning how to be the best we can be. What does that say about us as a society and as part of the human race?”
Levinson thinks gun control should mimic the types of restrictions we place on other dangerous items, such as cars and drugs. She explained, “With cars, their purpose is to drive, but they do kill many people every year; with prescription drugs, their purpose is to help people become healthier, but they also kill sometimes. With both of these things we have a lot of restrictions in place to prevent those negative outcomes. Why shouldn’t it be the same with guns, since their sole purpose is to kill?” Davies agreed: “Assault style weapons designed to kill people shouldn’t be covered by the second amendment because they’re a danger to society when in the wrong hands.”
The Foothills students spoke about the influence of the NRA in the gun restriction debate. They want to send a message to the NRA and the politicians supported by it that kids’ lives are worth more than the money they’re getting in exchange for not acting on citizens’ desire for tighter gun restrictions. Levinson noted she’s pleased that some corporations are cutting ties with the gun-rights group. “I think it’s really effective,” she said. “It shows they put their values above money, that they’re serious about this issue.”
Hope for the Future
Students at the group discussion described their experience with the walkout and rally as “overwhelming” (in a good way), “powerful,” and “feeling like a part of something bigger.” They noted a sense of unity as they started walking from their schools to Old Town with their own classmates and peers, and as they were joined along the way by students and supporters they didn’t know, and encouraged by observers who cheered, honked horns, and held “you make us proud” signs.
Levinson said, “The most inspirational part for me was how passionate people were. They took it really seriously. It was very moving, because usually kids don’t get a say in these things, and the event was centered around kids, not adults.”
Davies commented, “I thought, wow, a lot of people that go to other schools in this town really do care about this issue. Seeing that all these people care, it’s a surprise that nothing happens in D.C.”
The event created a sense of hope that these students would like to see continue. Being in dialog with friends, fellow students, and caring adults at Foothills, as well as becoming more informed and active are ways they’re perpetuating that hope. Davies said he’ll try to speak out more when he sees things like this happen, and make his voice heard at future events. He added, “Our generation can do a lot. In the next few years we’ll have the right to vote, as some of my friends do now. Elections will be influenced by us and how vocal we are about topics that are important to us. And eventually some of us will get into office and put our views into action there.”
Montague said, “The event showed me there are so many other people who support and believe what I believe. Now I know there are hundreds of teens that want gun reform; it’s refreshing how many there are, and how many voices are speaking out for peace, change, and action.”