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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Students voice opinions about marches addressing gun rights

By Emily Jackson

A 10-year-old boy walked out of his elementary school in Puyallup. His principal joined him near the playground. They stood outside for 17 minutes in honor of victims of the Parkland shooting.

It was March 14, one month after the shooting in Parkland, Florida. Students around the nation were holding walkouts to protest gun violence. About 200 Western students held a die-in for 17 minutes to commemorate the 17 students who were fatally injured in the Parkland shooting.

Ten-year-old Byron was holding his own student walkout. His cousin, Western junior Sarah Bentley-Spring, said he decided to participate after his parents told him about the shooting.

None of his friends wanted to walk out with him, she said.

Ten days later, an estimated 2,000 people participated in the Bellingham March for Our Lives.

Bentley-Spring joined the March for Our Lives rally in New York City, she said. She marched with fellow students, kids, parents and teachers. There were so many people that she couldn’t see the end of the crowd, she said.

More students protested in a National Student Walkout on April 20. The walkout was planned on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine mass shooting, the article said. Some students participated in Olympia.

The next day, gun rights supporters in Olympia held a March for Our Rights to oppose the student walkouts the day before, according to an article from My Northwest. The first March for Our Rights protests began March 24, in opposition of the March for Our Lives protests across the nation, according to an article in ABC News.

Bentley-Spring said a conflict in the two movements was inevitable.

“If you feel really strongly about something, you’re going to want to fight back against it,” she said.

Paul Chen, associate professor in Western’s political science department, said protests and counter-protests are nothing new.

“People may not like disagreement and differences,” he said. “But democracy is all about that.”

Sophomore Brandon Lane, chair of the Young Democrats of WWU club, also said it’s impossible to stop protests. Everyone has the right to protest, he said.

Lane traveled to Olympia for Viking Lobby Day this year.

“We just need to have a conversation about the way we talk about guns in this nation,” Lane said. “The fact that right now, I’m a 20-year-old, and I can’t walk into Walmart and buy a beer, but I can walk into Walmart and buy an AK-47 is just ridiculous.”

Since the Democratic Party is pro-gun control, he said the club was happy to see a bump stock ban pass in January for the state of Washington.

Bentley-Spring said it’s hard to make change unless large amounts of people turn out for protests. She said the amount of people at March for Our Lives inspired her.

“Everyone deserves to feel safe,” she said. “Especially at school, where people are there to learn.”

Lane said, in his experience, gun control supporters have historically been better at raising funds and connecting with politicians than raising activist support. The next step is to create a group of activists that is just as effective, he said.

Current gun control activists tend to only increase their energy after a shooting, Lane said. However, what activists need is consistency, he said.

“Legislation doesn’t get passed based on huge amounts of energy for a week or two,” Lane said. “We need sustained, consistent pressure on lawmakers.”

Pressure from survivors of the Parkland shooting is changing the game, he said.

Now, he said, youth and college-aged people have a better chance to make change. Mass shootings are a big problem, he said, but so are the shootings that get less attention.

“We don’t want to come in and repeal the Second Amendment,” Lane said. “We want to stop people [from] dying.”

Chen said these protests show a healthy interest and action around the issue of gun control and gun rights. This mobilization is good for democracy, he said, regardless of anyone’s stance on the issue.

“Protest is part of what we call politics,” he said. “It’s part of the political system.”

Chen said the First Amendment includes the rights to free speech, free press and free assembly. These opposing protesters are exercising their federal rights, he said.

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