IOWA CITY — More than a hundred Iowa City school students walked out of classes Monday morning to march through fog and rain to call for stricter gun-control measures.
The march began at City High School with high school and junior high school students carrying signs that called for banning AR-15 semi-automatic rifles and chanting phrases such as “not one more” and “safety now.”
They gathered on the Pentacrest on the steps of the Old Capitol, on the University of Iowa campus.
The students planned the event in the wake of last Wednesday’s mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 people.
“We’re hoping to send a message,” said Anabelle Cooper, a 17-year-old City High student. “We’re here. We’re not going to be silent.
“Even if we can’t vote yet, we’re going to say something.”
Students one by one spoke during the rally using a megaphone to give speeches on topics such as gun laws, the NRA funding politicians, mental health and school safety.
Bihotza James-Lejarcegui, also a 17-year-old City High student, said the idea for the rally originated in South East Junior High before older students got involved to help organize it.
She said that while this walkout was just an initial response to the Parkland shooting, she hopes to get all the district’s schools involved in a future event.
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Organizers of the Women’s March are calling for a national walkout of students and teachers March 14, and Parkland students are organizing a march in Washington, D.C., March 24.
“I don’t really trust the adults so far. I think the students are the ones that have been the most aware and taking the most action, honestly,” James-Lejarcegui said.
“We’re the ones that are going to have to vote in the future, so it’s really important that we’re aware of things right now and that we’re informed so that when we can vote that we make the right decisions.”
She said she’d hope to invite lawmakers, including U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, who may be against stricter gun laws, to a future event.
For now, students at both City High and West High are planing to set up centers after school this Friday where people can call and write their representatives.
“Were not technically old enough right now to have influence over our own legislators and representatives,” said Ileana Knapp, 17 and a student at City High. “We’re mandated to go to school, but they can’t protect us where we’re required by law to go.”
Knapp said she believes that while she can understand the legal argument for protecting handguns and smaller rifles, she does not understand why any civilian should be able to own a semi-automatic weapon such as the AR-15, a model that has been used in several mass shootings.
“I’d like to be heard. I feel like it’s important that our representatives listen to us as the children in jeopardy every time we go to school because you never know,” Knapp said.
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Marissa Westfall, a 15-year-old City High student who also helped to plan the event, said she and other students got sick of hearing about more gun violence in schools.
“It’s happening all over and we can’t just sit by and just be OK with what’s happening,” Westfall said, adding that she hopes tighter gun control results from the students’ activism.
City High Principal John Bacon said he found out about the walk out late Sunday night. He said while he always prefers students to be in class, the walkout wasn’t something he would “encourage or discourage.”
Bacon estimated that about 200 students took part in the walkout, which was a larger-scale event than last year’s walkout following the 2016 presidential election.
“When our students feel strongly about something, they’re going to do it,” Bacon said. “I understand that in a case like this, students felt very strongly that they needed to take an action and made a choice to do that.”
BACON’S FULL STATEMENT
“Students at City High are intelligent, hard working, socially conscious indidivuals. Our students are the leaders of tomorrow.
“It does not surprise me that City High students are working together in a peaceful, respectful manner to try to do what they believe is right.
“While we always obviously encourage students to be in class and doing their best academically, I understand that this issue is important to students and many chose to take action today.”
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