More than 200 people joined a student-led rally in Kettering on Friday, opposing school violence and supporting stronger gun laws, as young organizers tried to retain the momentum of nationwide rallies earlier this year.
The speakers were local high school students who walked out during the school day, as well as political candidates, and the message was mixed as well. There were pleas for school safety and a silent remembrance of the Columbine school shooting exactly 19 years previous. But there were also aggressive calls to vote out NRA-supported legislators who might stand in the way of stronger gun laws.
“The right to keep and bear arms is 226 years old. It was created when slavery was legal and when Ohio didn’t exist as a state. It has not changed enough with the times, but it needs to, now,” said Oakwood High School student Ella Jones. “Not when Congresspeople can function without NRA support; now. Not when Americans finally understand the dangers of our lack of gun control; Now.”
MARCH 14: Walkouts held at numerous local schools
Jones and several others said they were not calling for a repeal of the second amendment, but for what they called “common-sense reforms” such as banning assault weapons and stronger background check rules.
Two students who organized the rally — Oakwood’s Sammy Caruso and Fairmont’s Meigan Karolak — had been involved in March school safety rallies on the heels of the Parkland, Fla., shooting that killed 17 people. Caruso said he was happy with the turnout and energy, but was already focused on the next steps of getting students to stay involved, by volunteering for political campaigns and gun law campaigns.
“A year from now we’d have success if we have (tighter gun) legislation passed and we see, statistically, less shootings than we’re seeing right now,” Caruso said.
Democratic and Independent candidates for Congress, lieutenant governor, state house and common pleas judge addressed the crowd, with several of them stating opposition to arming teachers.
Congressional candidate Theresa Gasper, who attended Catholic schools, joked with students that nobody wanted to see a “nuns with guns” approach. State house candidate John McManus said he is a gun owner and repeatedly stressed a call for better regulation, not taking away people’s guns. Lieutenant governor candidate Tara Samples, running with Dennis Kucinich, said gun safety is not a Republican or Democratic issue, but needs to be treated with urgency by both parties.
But the students were the focus of the day — both for and against the message of the rally.
Three Fairmont students attended the rally to support gun rights. Gradon Weimer wore a “Ban idiots, not guns” sweatshirt, and had discussions with several people at the rally. Weimer said he has sympathy for victims of gun violence, but said “I think we’re taking this to a level where it doesn’t need to be.”
Fairmont sophomore Molly Campbell and Miami Valley School student Jack Butler both said it was important for their generation to be the one to stop gun violence. Butler said current students have always lived with the fear of a school shooting. One student called it “time for our own revolution,” urging students to have the courage to work for the cause.