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Local High School Students Are Getting on Board with the National Gun Debate

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Gun reform advocates have been busy since the Feb. 14 high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead.
More than 300 people showed up to a meeting for the local chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America on Feb. 22, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine held a Monday roundtable with parents to discuss gun violence prevention, and students at more than a dozen public and private schools began planning walkouts to stand in solidarity with the survivors at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and demand legislation that keeps them safe.

"Just like in 1963, a complacent nation needed the voice of young people to sort of shake them out of their complacency and indifference and make them believe that action was possible," Kaine says at the meeting while comparing the ongoing discussion led by high school students to the 1963 Birmingham Children's Crusade. "I'm going back up to the Senate today and I know we will immediately be in this discussion."

For 17-year-old Catherine Qian, a senior at Maggie Walker, the shooting in Florida hit close to home. Her younger brother will be a high school freshman in the fall and wants to join the military. So when she saw the face of Peter Wang, the 15-year-old Stoneman student who reportedly dreamed of attending West Point and died while holding a door open for others to escape, all Qian saw was her brother.

"I'm just so devastated to think about it happening here," she says.

Qian plans to participate in a walkout March 14, a nationwide event that students at hundreds of schools have committed to joining. At 10 a.m., Qian and her classmates will stand up from their desks, file out of their classrooms, and spend 17 minutes outside to honor the victims of the Valentine's Day shooting and advocate for stricter gun laws.

When asked about President Donald Trump's widely-criticized suggestion to arm schoolteachers, local mother Cheryl Lage couldn't roll her eyes hard enough. She's in favor of examining and updating school safety procedures, but wants to see more emphasis on reducing gun violence than responding to it.

"It irritates me to no end that we're just waiting for the next one to happen with the guns in place," she says. "Just the assumption that there will be one that you have to be armed for, that makes me furious. If you know it's coming, then why don't you do something to stop it instead of being ready to fight back?"

Lage has 16-year-old twins, both in Richmond City Public Schools. As a parent she says she's in awe of the young students who are standing up and speaking out, and at the same time embarrassed by her own generation's inaction on gun reform.

"A lot of adults are saying 'Oh, this is the generation that's going to get it done, we've failed you,' but that doesn't absolve us of responsibility to get something done. It's still our responsibility. We should've done it already," Lage says. "So now we've got to stand beside the kids and have their backs."

A senior at Douglas Freeman High School in Henrico, Maxwell Nardi is in favor of the Second Amendment. A child of military parents, he grew up around firearms and believes that Americans have a right to protect themselves and bear arms. For him, this student-led movement is less about reforming gun laws, though he vehemently believes that guns, especially semi-automatic weapons, should be regulated. But "everyone knows what policy changes need to be made," he says, so right now it's about changing the culture around the gun reform discussion.

"What you'll notice is that most of the focus on the national discussion hasn't been around what specific policies are needed, but the central idea is that we need to take action and anyone who's preventing this action needs to be fought against," Nardi says. "We're looking to shift the culture from pro-gun to pro-safety, and as a result of that shift force politicians to take action."

Nardi has grown up with two things: mass shootings and social media. And while he's been a proponent of gun reform for years, he says, the shooting in Florida brought him and his peers to a tipping point.

"Our generation has grown up on active-shooter drills and lockdowns and all those things and we've essentially grown up with this mentality that any moment a shooter could walk in and make bad things happen," Nardi says. "Our entire lives we've known nothing but that, and we don't want it anymore. It's too much and we're sick of it." S

Upcoming Events

#Enough School Walkout
Wednesday, March 14
Students plan to walk out of school for 17 minutes, beginning at 10 a.m.

March for Our Lives
Saturday, March 24
Students, parents and citizens will convene for marches in cities across the country, demanding action on gun reform.

National School Walkout
Friday, April 20
On the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, students will walk out of class again, this time for the entire day. In Richmond, students plan to meet and protest at the State Capitol.

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