Multiple blocks of students could be seen marching from Poudre High School east on Mountain Avenue for three miles until they reached the Old Town Square in Fort Collins on Tuesday. They chanted, “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, the NRA has got to go!”
Many participants criticized the National Rifle Association (NRA) for donating to political campaigns. Others criticized the philosophy of the NRA.
The students walked out of their school to join students from elementary, middle, and other area high schools in a planned act of support for the Never Again Movement following the February 14 mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Numbering in the hundreds, the demand was consistent, they called on their representatives to support stronger gun legislation. A police escort in vehicles and bicycles accompanied the group, but also following along the road were a handful of cars draped with Confederate or similar flags. The passengers in the counter-protest cars engaged in acts of intimidation, but the high schoolers remained focused and ignored them.
Upon arriving to the town square, more than a thousand gathered around to hear those wearing t-shirts that bore the message, “#NeverAgain, Fear Doesn’t Belong in Our Schools.”
Serena Bettis was one student who was donning one of the t-shirts. Bettis is a senior at Fossil Ridge High School and told The Nation Report that to feel safe at school she would like to see more gun regulation, “Definitely I don’t think 18-year olds should be able to have guns, because 18 year olds can’t drink alcohol that kills themselves, why should they be able to have guns that kill other people?”
Bettis said that she personally doesn’t feel unsafe at school, but cautions herself against gaining a false sense of security, and added what else she would like to see, “Anything that would keep people from buying guns, especially assault rifles, that could easily kill large groups of people.”
Julian Kaan, a Freshman at Rocky Mountain High School said that learning isn’t happening when students are feeling unsafe. But then Kaan zeroed in on the NRA, “I think that the NRA has 100% bought out our government through donations, and I think that’s completely changing how we control the gun laws in this country.”
One proposal spoken this week by NRA executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland earlier this month, was the suggestion that teachers should arm themselves. LaPierre echoed what has been referred to as a rally call of the NRA, “What stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.” President Trump echoed the sentiment, although later qualified the statement, saying that only certain teachers should be expected to carry on the duty of packing a gun.
“And there is no way I would ever want to carry a gun into my classroom. There are a lot of reasons why I wouldn’t want to do it. As someone who works with adolescents and young people, I fully understand how sometimes they are working from an emotional part of their brain as opposed to the logical part of their brain. And so I fear that having a gun on me would be turned against me by a child that is upset, or feeling isolated, or depressed or something like that.”
Young is an educator at Colorado State University, and has taught in high schools, “Furthermore, it’s just against my personal values. I just don’t believe in that sort of aggressive violence.”
On stage Allie Holton, a junior at Poudre High School who led the chant, “We want change!” She added, “We’ve wanted change since 1999 when Columbine happened.”
The crowd was led in an exercise introducing each other to 17 new people. After a few minutes, the gathering was asked how they’d feel if they learned that those people had been shot down, referencing the 17 who were killed in Parkland earlier in the month. In another exercise, students carried a poster bearing the photo and name of each of those killed.
In 2013 the first wave of 16-year olds was allowed to pre-register to vote after a bill passed in the Colorado legislature sponsored by Longmont Representative Jonathan Singer.
A small counter-protest took place off to a side. Several police officers hovered over, and the group left peacefully at the end of the rally. Most of this group expressed support for the NRA.
More walkouts are planned at area schools in the upcoming weeks.