Public Safety

Parkland shooting survivors promote voting, dialogue at Linn-Mar event

Hundreds attend Linn-Mar town hall to discuss gun violence

MARION — All academic year, before a former student walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with an assault-style rifle and killed 17 people, Emma Gonzalez sat in a government class where the same lesson was drilled over and over.

If young people voted, her teacher told Gonzalez and her classmates, they could fix “all the problems” they saw in their country.

Following the deadly attack at her Parkland, Fla., school, she and her classmates — who believe gun control measures would curb gun violence — have taken the message on the road, including stops Thursday in the Corridor.

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Gonzalez and classmates Jammal Lemy and Cameron Kasky spoke at a town-hall event at Linn-Mar High School in Marion as part of their “March for Our Lives: Road to Change” tour.

The Parkland students — as well as students from Chicago and Eastern Iowa — urged the crowd of about 1,000 that attended not only to register to vote, but to show up at the polls.

When young people vote, the student activists are hopeful they will support politicians who will enact measures that would curb gun access.

“When we see people protesting, when we see people standing up, it inspires others,” Kasky told the crowd. “But where can the real difference happen? In the polls. We need people in this country voting.”

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Since the February shooting at their school, the Florida students have launched a nationwide wave of student activism in protest of gun violence.

Students in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Marion and other Iowa schools have followed the Parkland students’ lead in recent months, staging walkouts and marches in local schools and cities.

“A lot of things haven’t been enough to stop mass shootings or reduce homicide rates,” said Linn-Mar High student Kevin Drahos, 17, who helped organize Thursday’s event. “Seeing the numbers stay the same is a motivation for me. … There’s still a lot to do and a lot of people to save.”

Effecting change, the student panelists said, depends on having difficult conversations and empathizing with others.

“You have a group of kids that they will have to, no matter what amount of therapy or help, they will never forget the incident that happened at their school,” Lemy said. “And I think for Americans, for the betterment of your country, you should open yourself to this conversation. Our whole mission is saving lives.”

On their multistate tour, Kasky said they hope to expose themselves to others experiences and opinions on gun control.

In an interview with The Gazette, Kasky said he met some protesters at an earlier event in Cedar Rapids, but found the people wearing “Make America Great Again” garb outside the Raygun storefront in the NewBo district open to dialogue.

Asking people why they hold the political views they do is “an easy beginning” to a productive talk, he said.

At Linn-Mar High, he asked Iowans to keep talking.

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“If this conversation about gun violence and what we can do about it ends when you leave this room,” Kasky said, “we have failed you and you have failed us.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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