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Listen to Ali Shultz.
The cardboard sign that hangs around her neck reads “Thoughts and prayers will never be enough.”
She stands in the cooling shade of towering pine trees, with her mother and friend, and the thousands gathered at Denver’s Civic Center Park for the March 24 student-organized rally and march protesting gun violence.
“We need to change,” the 16-year-old from Boulder High School says. “I want to feel safe. When a fire alarm goes off . . . ”
Tears suddenly well in her eyes, roll down her cheeks.
“I don’t want to go to school someday and not come home.”
Listen to Erik Frederiksen.
He is 19, from Seattle, studying at the University of Denver. During his senior year in high school, he experienced three lockdowns.
“It’s terrifying when you see a tweet go out — ‘I am on my way to shoot up a school‘ — and you sit there for two hours waiting for something to happen.” Police later arrested a student who wasn’t in school that day.
A few weeks earlier, someone had scrawled “Don’t come to school on Friday” on a bathroom wall. School was canceled that day.
“After that, you kind of prepare. You figure out where you’re going to hide, where your exits are. It’s stayed with me ever since.”
He holds a sign that says “Books not bullets.”
‘I’m so proud of the kids’
Signs are everywhere. Small ones. Big ones. Simple, scrawled, colorful, sophisticated. They wave in the air, clutched in hands, a sea of words that punch bluntly.
If politicians won’t lead us, then we must make them.
2nd Amendment is not code for run for your life.
Change gun laws or change Congress.
Students are lucky enough to go to school. We shouldn’t feel lucky to go home.
We will not be your target practice.
Young people descended on Civic Center Park this spring-like afternoon by the thousands to demand change in gun laws that they believe will prevent violence in their classrooms and communities. They were part of a nationwide clarion call, March for our Lives, led and organized by students, set in motion by student survivors of the Parkland, Florida, shooting on Valentine’s Day that killed 17 students and educators.
But parents, grandparents and adults of all ages poured into the park, too.
Kathie Hart, 74, leans against a wall, watching the young people. A former English and French teacher, she drove from Thornton to support them and their cause.
“I’m so proud of the kids,” she says with fervor. “They are eloquent. They are powerful. They are passionate. And they are respectful . . . They’re doing a better job at speaking to the issues” than those in Congress. “I am so proud of them.”
Carol Starmack, a member of the American Montessori Society in town for its annual conference, and so inspired by the student movement, had to be there.
Peace is a central mission of Montessori teachings. Children are our hope for the future, she says, “our only hope for peace.”
‘This movement will make a difference’
The air in the park seems charged. Electric. Music pulses through speakers. Chants swell. But it’s confidence, buoyed by the youthful belief of invincibility, which makes itself heard loud and clear.
“Students aren’t going to stop until something actually changes, however long that actually takes,” says Madeline Bond, 15, a sophomore from Dakota Ridge High School in Jefferson County.
“I want to let our senators in Congress know we want change,” says Kathryn Chandler, 17, who drove six hours from Garden City, Kansas, with her mom, because the Denver rally was the closest. “We’re done with being silent.”
“This movement will make a difference,” Erik says. “This time, it’s all different types of people coming together on both sides of the aisle, and people are sick and tired of seeing this happen.”
A recent poll by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows he may be right. Results found nearly 7 in 10 adults now favor stricter gun control measures, the strongest level of support since the Associated Press first asked the question in 2015. Overall, 90 percent of Democrats, 54 percent of gun owners and 50 percent of Republicans support tightening such laws.
School shootings remain a very small fraction of the gun violence that leaves a child dead or injured, on average, every hour in this country, according to a Washington Post analysis. But the analysis found nearly 200 people have died in school shootings since 1999 — the year 12 students and a teacher died in the Columbine High School tragedy — and more than 187,000 students in primary and secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus during school hours.
‘You can’t underestimate any day’
Fear that someday it will be their turn is real, students say.
Many students know what they want. They say they don’t want to abolish the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms. But they want stricter regulations on background and mental health checks and the gun-permitting process. They want a ban on assault weapons.
Katie Lurie, 14, a freshman at Littleton High School, calls them common-sense gun laws. They “should be easy to comprehend,” she says. “It’s what students need to feel safe in their schools.”
Noah Hollingshead, 18, will graduate from Castle View High School in Douglas County in May. He hunts. He knows guns and rifles, understands how to use them safely. He came Saturday with his family — his parents, grandfather and eighth-grade sister, his aunt and uncle and cousins.
He holds up a sign he wrote — “Protect us! Ban assault weapons.”
It was important for him to be here, he says.
“My sister is in school for four more years and I will have kids one day, and I hope they can go to a school where they can feel safe and that it will do what it’s intended to do — and that’s learn without worrying about shootings.”
There’s not a day that he walks into school and doesn’t think something could happen.
“You can’t underestimate any day,” he says. “If you are caught not ready for the event, then you’re kidding yourself.”
He loves to hunt. It’s been part of his family tradition. His grandfather, in his 60s, has hunted since he was 15. They respect guns and the reasons they use them.
But “we agreed we’d destroy every gun we ever had if it meant no person would ever be hurt or killed from an assault rifle ever again,” Noah says. “If a solution meant we would have to sacrifice that, then that’s a sacrifice we’d be willing to make.”
Listen to our children.
“At the end of the day,” Noah says, “you just want kids to stop dying.”
Ann Macari Healey writes about people, places and issues of everyday life. An award-winning columnist, she can be reached at ahealey@coloradocommunitymedia or 303-566-4100.
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