Thousands of students and teachers across the US are walking out of schools on Wednesday to commemorate the month anniversary of the high school shooting in Florida and call for increased gun control measures to prevent future incidents.
The walkout began at 10am local time and will last for 17 minutes to honour the 17 people killed when a gunman opened fire on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last month.
The walkout was called by Women’s March Youth Empower, the youth branch of the organisation that plans worldwide protests to enact laws that favour human rights.
The group said in a statement the walkout is being called “to protest Congress’ refusal to take action on the gun violence epidemic plaguing our schools and neighbourhoods”.
Though students may face disciplinary action if their walkout is not sanctioned by their school’s administration, many educational institutions have signalled they will allow the 17-minute memorial to proceed.
Students take lead
Since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, students have taken the lead to call for reform.
Survivors of the shooting came together to form Never Again MSD, a student-led gun control organisation.
Emma Gonzalez, who helped found the Never Again MSD, gave a speech in which she called out politicians for not addressing mass shootings that went viral.
“Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have ever been done to prevent this, we call BS,” Gonzalez said.
“They say that no laws could have been able to prevent the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS,” she added.
#InOurLifeTime we will fight for and alongside victims of gun violence, and we will prevail. Forget our kids, our Neighbors shouldn’t have to worry about this.
— Emma González (@Emma4Change) March 12, 2018
David Hogg, another Never Again MSD member, has become the target of conspiracy theorists who said he was a paid actor present at multiple mass shootings across the US.
What would happen if we treated every school shooting like an airplane crash with huge investigations and changes made to prevent others from dying Just saying we would probably see a lot less school shootings. #USAoverNRA
— David Hogg (@davidhogg111) March 10, 2018
The students have already appeared to make headway in their own state.
Last week, Florida enacted stricter gun control measures, including raising the minimum age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21. The legislation also paved the way for the arming of teachers, a proposal decried by both students and teachers.
Separately, the Department of Justice put forward a plan to ban bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic assault rifles to function as if they are automatic weapons.
Other cities and states are considering bans on high capacity ammunition magazines and semi-automatic weapons. Certain retailers, including Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, have banned gun sales to anyone younger than 21 years old.
Dick’s Sporting Goods also ended the sale of assault-style weapons.
Still, the National Rifle Association (NRA), the largest gun lobby in the US, immediately sued Florida to block the legislation.
Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s chief executive, said the pro-gun ownership rights group doesn’t support any ban on firearms or related equipment.
LaPierre has also called for arming teachers, saying that evil “walks among us, and God help us if we don’t harden our schools and protect our kids” at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.
The students have set their sights on the NRA. Hogg said in February that activists will launch their own campaign to “make sure everybody knows how much money their politician took from the NRA” in advance of midterm elections in November.
They also called for individuals to boycott companies that do business with the NRA, prompting hotel chains, rental car companies and other organisations to cut ties with the powerful gun lobby.
The teenagers have collected large sums of money for their cause from celebrities like actor George Clooney. The Women’s March is helping them with organisational development.
After the March 14 walkout, students and other gun control activists have organised a nationwide “March for our Lives” on March 24. The main march will take place in Washington, DC.