Hundreds of students, teachers and supporters marched through downtown Wichita on Saturday to demand stricter gun laws.
The event was held in conjunction with dozens of other “March for Our Lives” protests across the country in response to last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead. Several hundred thousand people marched in Washington, D.C.
“I think Columbine was definitely the start, and now Parkland’s going to be the change,” said Matthew Melchor, a senior at Maize High School. “I think people look at it a lot differently because it’s something that didn’t just happen once and shocked people; it’s happened multiple times now.”
An estimated 1,000 people walked from Park Elementary School near 10th and Main Street to the steps of the Historic County Courthouse, chanting “vote them out” and “not one more.” They held signs calling on lawmakers to take action to enact tougher gun laws.
The event was entirely student-led.
On the steps of the courthouse, 17 students held signs spelling out “enough is enough;” each sign bore the name of a victim of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
In response to that shooting, some lawmakers, including Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer, have suggested arming school teachers, something Derby High School junior Camille Pierce said was like “blowing out a candle with a second flame. It will not work.”
She told the crowd that on March 5, a student brought a loaded handgun to her school; another student reported it to teachers.
“Although the school and authorities did a very good job of taking care of the incident as quickly and efficiently as possible, schools across the nation are not nearly safe enough,” she said.
Winfield Middle School teacher Justin Williams participated in the march. Though he said he does own guns, he supports efforts to make it more difficult for people to have access to certain guns.
“I believe there’s some things that we can put in place to help our students,” he said, and “make sure that things like Parkland and other events are less likely to happen.”
But he said he has no desire to be armed in school.
“I’m there to teach, and I don’t want to have to think about it," he said. "I shouldn’t have to think about my students being hurt while I’m trying to educate them and help them become better people.
“If that’s what it came to, I would, but I shouldn’t have to; there should be things in place in our society to help with that.”
Saturday’s event was the latest in a series of protests following the Parkland shooting. Earlier this month students across Wichita and Kansas participated in school walkouts to push for gun reform.
And though march coordinator Brittany Ayres said she knows the March for Our Lives rally won’t change anything, upcoming elections can.
“People who feel passionate about this topic and people who will be 18 by the election will be able to vote with people who share the same ideals and the same morals as us," said Ayres, a senior Wichita Northwest High School.
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