Braving low temperatures and sideways rain, hundreds of Louisville-area students rallied Saturday to protest gun violence and demand gun safety legislation.
Chants like “Enough is enough” and “Hey, hey, NRA, how many kids have died today?” echoed through downtown Louisville as students led the group from Waterfront Park to Metro Hall, with adult allies following. The March For Our Lives was one of many held across the country, including a national march in Washington, D.C.
“March For Our Lives is created by, inspired by, and led by students across the country who will no longer risk their lives waiting for someone else to take action to stop the epidemic of mass school shootings that has become all too familiar,” the event’s Facebook page said.
After the march, students rallied on the steps of Metro Hall, leading chants between speeches from students and local lawmakers. Student organizers said they want to protect children, not to take all guns. Their goal: common sense gun control legislation, like background checks.
“As students, we should not have to worry about gun-toting classmates at 7:30 a.m.,” a student speaker said. “We should be worried about calculus tests and football games, not the possibility of having thoughts and prayers sent our family’s way for weeks.”
North Oldham High School student and event organizer Zoe Kuhn recounted her memory of the Sandy Hook shooting, which happened when she was 11.
“I didn’t understand how another child could lose their life in the most magical place in the world,” Kuhn said. “Twenty children had woken up, gotten dressed, packed their bags and kissed their parents goodbye, not knowing it was for the last time.”
Five years later, Kuhn said she is scared of being at school. She said she has panic attacks, and constantly wonders which of her classmates would bring a gun to school. Now, she and her fellow organizers are using their voices to demand change.
“It is your job to listen to our voices and make the changes we are begging you to make,” Kuhn said, addressing lawmakers. “Understand that you are outnumbered and overpowered. You may no longer sit in Washington or Frankfort and pretend that children aren’t dying. Listen to our voices and know that we will not be silenced.”
Rep. John Yarmuth, who marched with students and spoke after Kuhn, praised the students.
“You are forcing adults to look in the mirror and ask themselves if they are doing enough to protect our next generation,” Yarmuth said, with some people immediately screaming back, “They’re not.”
Throughout the event, Yarmuth wore a “F” pin to symbolize his failing rating from the NRA. He, along with other representatives with a failing rating, will wear the pin until Congress passes gun safety legislation, his spokesperson said.
The majority of student participants hailed from JCPS high schools, but other districts and age groups showed up. One St. Matthew’s Elementary student stood by her mom while holding a sign that said, “As a girl, I hope to have as many rights as a gun one day.”
Two Assumption High School sophomores, Anna Hutchins and Tabitha Robinson, said they felt it was important for them to be there, in part, to represent the area’s Catholic schools.
“And, this is important stuff. This is like history in the making, and I think we should be a part of that,” Robinson said.
When asked if they felt safe in school, both echoed Kuhn’s statement about being suspicious of classmates and concerned that someone would bring a gun to school. The two want to see gun control legislation passed, and don’t want teachers to be armed.
“If somebody goes and shoots somebody, you shouldn’t go and give everybody a gun. That’s not common sense,” Robinson said.
“We’re fighting for rights as students to go to school and learn as much as we can and be safe,” Hutchins said.
The rally extended past school shootings, with speakers looking at the larger picture of gun violence. Two duPont Manual students said gun crimes against minorities tend to go overlooked.
“Only when recognizing that the primary cause of death for African-American youth aged 15 to 24 Is death by a bullet, do we truly begin to contextualize the problems that really exist in our communities,” duPont Manual student Arianna Moya said. Another Manual student, Destine Grigsby, repeated Moya’s words, this time in Spanish.
The event comes after a 16-year-old Jaelynn Willey died after being shot in her Maryland high school earlier this week. She was the 18th student to die in a U.S. school shooting this year. Two of those students were killed at Marshall County High School in Benton, Ky., in January.
Several student-driven initiatives speaking out against school shootings have happened after 17 were killed in a shooting in Parkland, Fla. Earlier this week, students from across Kentucky convened in Frankfort for a teach-in and rally, learning how to be a student activist and understand the gun debate.
In a separate student-led effort, students across the nation walked out of class for 17 minutes on March 14 to honor the Parkland victims and raise awareness for gun control.
Another national school walkout is planned for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre. At least 10 Louisville-area schools, including six JCPS schools, are slated to have a walkout.
Calling legislators and voting seem like popular choices for other next steps, with chants of “Vote them out” repeated throughout the day.
“We believe in the power of our voices, and the power of collective action,” a student organizer said.