High school students from across the St. Louis region took part in another day of action Friday to call for improved school safety and tighter gun control measures.
The protest fell on the 19th anniversary of the school shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, where 13 people were killed. Many consider that event the moment when mass school shootings entered Americans’ consciousness. The Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Florida, has rocketed student activists to the center of the debate over guns.
Dozens of students gathered in downtown St. Louis at noon Friday, carrying signs and yelling chants, including “The NRA has got to go!” and “Enough is enough!” as they circled the Old Post Office, which includes an office for state Attorney General Josh Hawley.
“Keeping this issue in the public eye is necessary if we want more action,” said Devin Haas, a 17-year-old student at Marquette, a Rockwood District high school school in Chesterfield.
Congress has updated the background check system for gun sales, and some states have raised the age for gun purchases and passed other measures. Some retail outlets have also pulled assault weapons from their shelves in response to demonstrations. Yet in Missouri, no major laws regarding guns have changed. Still, students who rallied were undeterred.
While the demonstrations on Friday were smaller than ones last month, students who went to a downtown St. Louis rally were boisterous and confident. Twice the students were heckled by onlookers. A grey-haired man worked his way through the crowd to get in a speaker’s face. He was shouted down but students mainly remained calm.
“Youth definitely have their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the nation and by using our collective voice, we can definitely create change,” said Susie Saxon, 17, a Marquette student.
Student speakers talked of a need to feel safer in school, but some in attendance said the message was about broader gun control measures, not just school safety.
“We have the most voice, we have the most volume to contribute to the matter. I think that as young people and being the next generation, we have more of a purpose to say that,” said Gerald McAddo, an 18-year-old senior at Crossroads College Preparatory School in St. Louis.
At least 10 events in the St. Louis area were scheduled on the national organizing website, though some protests at schools visited by St. Louis Public Radio did not appear to happen. The events were planned by a high school student in Connecticut.
Juniors and seniors at the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis held a student-led dialogue in the courtyard, according to Assistant Principal Perry Anselman. Members of the media were not allowed inside.
Students in the Clayton, Riverview Gardens and Parkway districts held walkouts or rallies in the days after 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. That was followed by a synchronized school walkout on March 14 and a march in downtown St. Louis to correspond with a rally in Washington on March 24.
School leaders have struggled with how to best address the new wave of student activism, balancing school policies on protests and attendance with the desire to encourage students to use their voices.
During the March walkouts, some schools worked with students to plan appropriate events. Students downtown Friday said their schools allowed them to attend the protest, though some had to get permission slips signed.
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