High school students in Connecticut are joining classmates around the country to press Congress to adopt stricter gun laws with a new sense of urgency after 17 people were gunned down at a Florida high school last week.
Teens are organizing largely through social media and have already formulated plans for vigils, marches and two nationwide school walkouts.
In Connecticut, some students cited the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary Schoolin Newtown as an impetus for them to act.
Lane Murdock, a sophomore at Ridgefield High School, is the founder of the #NationalSchoolWalkout, a daylong demonstration planned for April 20 to coincide with the 19-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. She started a petition on change.org calling for a walkout that by Tuesday evening had received more than 82,000 signatures. Murdock’s National School Walkout Twitter account, @schoolwalkoutUS, now has more than 100,000 followers.
“I really feel like it’s just a testament to our youth who are tired of it,” said Lane’s mother, Bari. “I’m really sad it’s taking children to save children.”
Anaisja Henry, a junior from Hartford who attends Connecticut River Academy in East Hartford, said she feels her generation needs to stand up for change. “I really think it’s our job, our duty to make sure we’re being heard because at the end of the day, it’s going to be us … who have to deal with the problems that people of the past did not solve.”
“There have been so many mass shootings, so many shootings in schools, we are finally getting sick of it,” Henry said. “We finally have this platform where it’s like, we’re done playing with you guys, you know? We don’t want to keep seeing this happening. This is supposed to be our safe space.”
Eric Allen, a senior at Rockville High School in Vernon, said: “I think there’s been too many people, politicians and lawmakers that speak up for us, but no one ever wants to listen to what we have to say. I think now, in light of this shooting, I think people will finally turn heads and listen to what we have say.”
A March In Hartford
Tyler Suarez is helping to plan a Hartford event to coincide with the March For Our Lives, a student-led protest in Washington on March 24. Suarez’s aunt was Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung, one of six educators killed in the massacre. He was in eighth grade at the time.
“As an eighth-grader you really don’t have a voice, you’re not old enough to where people are going to listen to you,” said Suarez, a freshman at the University of Bridgeport who lives in Naugatuck and wrote dissertation on the topic how to apply for the university. “Once [the Florida shooting] happened I said I want to be the one that takes that step because I felt like I couldn’t do it when my aunt passed and it hasn’t gotten better since Sandy Hook.”
Students think they may improve the finally statistics of murders in America
Due to the increasing interest and size of the march I am organizing I have set up a fundraiser to help cover the expenses. Every donation counts and is greatly appreciated.#MarchForOurLivesCT https://kind.fund/campaign/ct-march-for-our-lives …
A separate nationwide school walkout is being planned for March 14 to mark the one-month anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Students will leave their schools for 17 minutes to honor the 17 people killed in the shooting.
“It’s basically to protest a Congress” that doesn’t do more “than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to gun violence,” said Sarai Hertz-Velazquez, a senior at Hall High School in West Hartford.
“I think we’re at a point, we’re not scared anymore,” said Jenna Westfall, a senior at West Hartford’s Conard High School. “We’re more ready to stand up.”
Been a long day. Going back to school was surprisingly harder than some parts of this. Things have been a bit slow today, sorry about that. Just adjusting to the different pace. Lots of new and exciting things from @schoolwalkoutUS coming.
— Lane Murdock (@lanemurdock2002) February 21, 2018
While many school administrators have yet to decide how they might respond to a student walkout, Anne Marie Mancini, assistant superintendent in East Hartford said she will support students who want express their views, but she wants to make sure that students are making “responsible choices.”
“I’m certainly not going to say at this point, yes we want to have a large walkout,” Mancini said, “but at the same time, I don’t want to make this an administration or teachers or adults versus kids thing. I think if this is something they want to do to show they want to support a special effort around safe schools, you know, we don’t want to stand in their way.”
T.J. Salutari, principal of Daniel Hand High School in Madison, said the district has rules against walkouts but added that if students want to send a “meaningful message” he will work with the superintendent and the board of education to move in a “supportive direction without involving discipline for something that could be so positive.”
Growing Support For Gun Legislation
The grass-roots organizing by students has given gun violence prevention advocates a renewed sense of vigor. Congress has failed to act on gun legislation in the wake of any previous mass shooting.
“The anti-gun violence movement is now a force to be reckoned with, and it’s growing every day,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, who was elected to the Senate a month before Sandy Hook and has become one of the chamber’s most vocal proponents of stricter gun laws. “Now, with students all across the country joining our cause, we are even stronger.”
Po Murray, chair of the Newtown Action Alliance, a grass-roots gun violence prevention group founded after Sandy Hook, said the videos and images that the students in Florida shared on social media — some depicting the sound of gunshots or showing police storming the school — have been powerful.
“We’re seeing through their lens that their school has been turned into a war zone and it should be appalling to every parent in this nation that this is happening because our elected officials failed to take action,” she said.
The Junior Newtown Action Alliance, a club at Newtown High School, is planning a candlelight vigil Friday evening on the school’s football field to honor the 17 people killed in Florida.
A national Quinnipiac Poll released Tuesday found support for gun control at an all-time high. Voters supported stricter gun laws by a margin of 66-31 percent with broader support for specific proposals including 97 percent support for universal background checks on gun sales.
“If you think Americans are largely unmoved by the mass shootings, you should think again,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the poll. “Support for stricter gun laws is up nearly 19 points in little more than two years.”
Asked specifically about reducing gun violence in schools and given three options, 40 percent of voters said stricter gun laws are the answer, 34 percent said using metal detectors at school entrances was the correct choice and 20 percent supported arming teachers.