As part of a nationwide event, students at Carroll College plan to walk out of their classes on March 14 to protest Congress’ inaction on gun violence.
The National School Walkout will take place a month after 17 students died in a school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Data evaluated by the Washington Post estimates there have been 188 school shootings in the United States since 2000. So far this year, there have already been seven school shootings.
Students from Parkland are mobilizing in hopes of changing the national conversation after a mass shooting, which typically starts with temporary news coverage, a debate on how to address gun violence and inaction from Congress. Students formed a group called “Never Again MSD” just days after the shooting. They've been featured in the news almost constantly and have singled out the gun lobby with a goal to shame candidates who continue taking money from the NRA and other gun-rights groups. They are making a trip to the Florida state Legislature to meet with legislators individually to encourage gun control. And they're calling on students across the country to pitch in with protests and action.
The Women’s March organization designed for youth activists helped organize the school walkout on March 14, calling for students, teachers and administrators to walk out of class for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. “to protest Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.”
Carroll College has not been immune to gun violence, as a man who appeared to be drunk walked into the school's cafeteria and opened fire in 1990, killing one food service worker and wounding another.
Emily Larson, a junior studying political science at Carroll College, said she decided to organize an event in Helena after realizing a great deal of the community cares about gun violence. Hundreds of walkouts are planned across the country.
Larson said she was inspired by the students mobilizing at Marjory Stoneman Douglas while they’re still grieving their classmates.
“The students at Parkland who have been speaking up and stepping forward and taking over the message of what has happened to them is really integral to how this time we have a fighting shot at something happening,” Larson said. “It seems like it’s the only way to get people to listen.”
Though Larson has only been planning the event since Sunday, she has already heard her peers and professors talking about it on campus.
“I think it’s already gained a lot of ground,” she said. “I think what’s cool about this event is it just welcomes everyone who wants the senseless acts of violence to stop. It doesn’t have to be divided among party lines.”
Larson said the march works directly with Carroll’s mission statement, which is to honor and promote dignity to every human being.
The national event calls on Congress to take “meaningful action to keep us safe and pass federal gun reform legislation that address the public health crisis of gun violence.”
Larson said she doesn’t have all the answers, or expect people who walk out to have the same views, but she said there are reasonable limits that can and should be applied to constitutional rights.
“I do believe in the Constitution, but I also believe in reason and morality,” she said. “When children’s lives are at stake, it is time to step up and say something needs to change.”
Larson said this event is designed to show Montana’s national delegation and the Montana Legislature that their constituents are listening and watching. In the United States, 60 percent of Americans in 2017 said they think laws covering the sale of firearms should be more strict, according to a Gallup survey. But powerful gun rights lobbyists have consistently opposed gun control measures, and students in Parkland have called out the NRA and politicians who accept contributions specifically. Larson said she thinks students in Montana will also pay more attention to those donations. Rep. Greg Gianforte was included in a New York Times opinion story citing finance reports that showed he has received $344,630 from the NRA in his political career. Nationwide, gun lobbyists spent $54.4 million in the 2016 election cycle, according to the Los Angeles Times.
A Twitter account called Helena Youth Against Gun Violence was created on Monday. Its first tweet said the group will hold its first meeting Wednesday in the lobby of the Placer Hotel, 21 N. Last Chance Gulch.
Students in Parkland also announced March For Our Lives, which will take place in Washington, D.C., and other major U.S. cities on March 24. The march will also call for immediate action from Congress to allow kids to feel safe in school again, the website says.
“In the tragic wake of the seventeen lives brutally cut short in Florida, politicians are telling us that now is not the time to talk about guns. March For Our Lives believes the time is now,” the website’s mission statement says. “Every kid in this country now goes to school wondering if this day might be their last. We live in fear.”
No local March For Our Lives event has been planned for the Helena area so far.