US students stage class walkout to demand tougher gun laws

Protesters call for tighter gun control legislation and for voters to punish recalcitrant politicians at the ballot box.


US students stage class walkout to demand tougher gun laws Ben Dalton/Al Jazeera [Al Jazeera]
US students stage class walkout to demand tougher gun laws Ben Dalton/Al Jazeera [Al Jazeera]

Ridgefield, Connecticut – Thousands of students across the United States have walked out of their schools to protest against government inaction on gun reform.

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The protest on Friday was the second national school walkout since an attacker killed 17 people in a Florida high school in February.

Student groups – some 2,700 in total – left their schools at 10am local time and observed a moment of silence for the victims of gun violence.

Student protesters called for tougher gun control laws and for voters to punish recalcitrant politicians at the ballot box.

‘Time is on our side’

Several hundred students participated in the walkout at Ridgefield High School in Connecticut, where the protest’s organiser, 16-year-old Lane Murdock, is a sophomore.

Murdock scheduled the walkout to coincide with the 19th anniversary of the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

Organiser Lane Murdock speaks at Ridgefield High School [Ben Dalton/Al Jazeera]

Addressing her fellow students, Murdock’s message was one of generational change.

“Regardless of how much money you have or how much power you have, the one thing you can’t control is time,” she said on Friday.

“And time is on our side.”

Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, addressed the students and promised to fight for stricter gun control measures nationwide.

“We need national laws because the strongest states like Connecticut are at the mercy of states with the weakest laws,” Blumenthal said. “Guns have no respect for state boundaries.”

Ridgefield students walked to the centre of their school’s track and sat – many huddled under blankets against the cold – to listen to a succession of student and adult speakers.

Some wore tags with the amount $1.18, a reference to political donations by the pro-gun National Rifle Association.

‘Step up and take action’

Ridgefield is a short drive from Sandy Hook Elementary School, where in 2012 gunman Adam Lanza killed 26 people, most of them young children.

Annie Colao, a senior at Ridgefield and one of the protest organisers, said that the Sandy Hook shooting – and the political paralysis that followed it – was a harsh lesson.

“As a high school senior looking back and seeing that our country took no action after that event and after 26 people died, it really shocked me,” Colao told Al Jazeera.

Colao said that it was all too easy to imagine herself or her peers in the position of the Parkland shooting victims.

“I could compare everyone from that shooting,” said Colao.

“That could be somebody from my school, or that could have been me,” she added. “That just really made me want to step up and take action.”

Several protesters stressed that gun violence extends beyond the mass shootings that dominate headlines.

Fourteen-year-old Lashawnna Mullins, a resident of New Haven, said that less covered, day-to-day shootings also weigh heavily on US communities.

“I used to go to school in the inner city, and there’s so much gun violence there every day. It really takes a toll on you. You think it doesn’t, but then you go to a school like this and it’s a whole different atmosphere,” Mullins told Al Jazeera.

Friday’s protest “makes you feel like you have power, and you’re not just someone who is sitting in class and can’t do anything about it”, Mullins said.

While Ridgefield administrators coordinated with walkout organisers, some schools threatened to take disciplinary action against student protesters.