'Hold Hands, Not Guns': Kids Take The High Ground In Adults' Battle Over Gun Control

“It makes me proud to see that the are becoming active members in our democracy."

More than a thousand students poured of Brooklyn's Edward R. Murrow high school at 10 a.m. Wednesday, joining over 2,500 schools across the country in a 17-minute demonstration to end gun violence and honor the 17 victims of the Parkland, Florida school shooting. March 14's National School Walkout is perhaps the most visible volley yet in a gun control debate that has divided politicians across the country. And although only a fraction of the Murrow high school participants are old enough to vote, together the teens demonstrated a unity of purpose that many legislatures have yet to.

The student activist group that organized the Murrow walkout told A Plus that they had more than 700 signatures signed up for the 10 a.m. walkout, but were expecting there to be far more than that when other students got word of it on Wednesday morning. A uniformed NYPD officer at the protest estimated that there were at least 1,000 students on 17th St. between Avenue M and L. 

As the students flooded the street, chants of "hold hands not guns" and "we want change" echoed off the brick walls of Edward R. Murrow. Members of the student activist group told A Plus that the school administration was supportive of their decision to walk out, but sent a notice to students and parents that it would be marked as a class cut. Still, members of the activist group felt they had to participate.

"We thought that we could get the message across better for stronger gun control as students in a really diverse school," Ana Beirne-Meyer, a senior in the student activist club, told A Plus. "We thought that this was a perfect circumstance to take advantage of that aspect of our school."

Student protester Michaela Cintron-Andrews holds her "End Gun Violence" sign high. Katie Ward / A Plus.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made an appearance at the event, joining three other students who spoke at the podium.

"I have to help you understand one thing: in the decades and decades before this moment, we have never seen anything like what you are doing today," de Blasio told the crowd of students. "There has been a fight for change for a long time, but there has never been a more powerful movement than what the students of Brooklyn and New York City and this nation have done these last few weeks."

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaking with a group of students from Edward R. Murrow High School. Katie Ward / A Plus

Ryan Mills, an assistant principal of Social Studies at Edward R. Murrow who helps the student activist club, said he enjoyed seeing his kids exercise their first amendment rights.

"It makes me proud to see that they are becoming active members in our democracy," Mills said. "They are learning that they have a voice that can have an impact on the dialogue around public policy."

He added that in his 17 years of teaching, he's never felt the urge to be armed in school, despite politicians' suggestions that some teachers should be trained to carry. All "reasonable" evidence he had seen, he said, suggested more guns led to more violence.

Rachael McCain, Amena Begum, and Sahara Ellison honor Courtlin Arrington, a teen who was fatally shot last week at an Alabama school. Katie Ward / A Plus.
Theresa (left) and Matthew (right), both seniors at Edward R. Murrow, holding up signs during the protest. Katie Ward /  A Plus

Matthew, another senior in the activist club, was holding a sign with names of all the victims and their ages from the Sandy Hook school shooting. Asked if he felt discouraged by adults who had criticized student activists putting themselves in the center of this debate, Matthew said he felt that idea was ignorant. 

"The people who died in these school shootings — they were kids," he said. "Whether they were conservative or liberal they won't get to say their opinions anymore because they're dead. So it shouldn't matter how old you are."

Several students A Plus spoke to at the walkout said they were inspired and motivated by the teenagers in Parkland, Florida, who have been driving the conversation on gun control and fighting off attacks from the far-right online. 

"We don't feel safe in our school," Theresa, another senior, said. "Actually seeing kids our age go through something like that — it can happen to us easily. It's scary."

Student activist Anna Moore speaking during the walkout.  Katie Ward /  A Plus

When de Blasio was done speaking, he introduced Anna Moore to the podium. Moore is a senior in the student activist group and was one of the driving forces behind the walkout. As she spoke, students in the crowd cheered her on, jeered when she invoked the "NRA," and broke out in chants for change and raucous applause at nearly every punch line. 

"Schools were never meant to be armed with guns, but armed with knowledge, deterring any use for violence," Moore said. "It is so frustrating to see a country that I believe in let me down with every day that passes without gun reform. Our laws should never be so rigid that when citizens are dying, representatives still feel that they cannot act. They can."

Cover image via Katie Ward / A Plus.


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