By Karen Forman
Hundreds of students, parents, grandparents and politicians rallied outside Huntington Town Hall this Saturday to honor the lives of the Parkland school shooting victims and call for the implementation of stricter gun control measures.
The March for Our Lives Long Island held March 24, founded by 16-year-old Huntington students Avalon Fenster and Sara Frawley, was one of the more than 800 rallies that sprung up across the country as part of the national movement started by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
“In the short term, we want to honor the lives lost in Parkland and all the school shootings since Columbine,” Fenster said. “In the long term, we want to get youth more civically involved, collaborating with elected officials to create legislation that makes our lives a priority.”
“We want to live in a country where children can go to school and not fear that they won’t come home.”
— Julia Fenster
The event was kicked off with a performance by Dan Krochmal, an Australian-born singer now residing in New York City, who wrote a song in support of the movement titled “Pride Before the Fall.” Featured speakers included student organizers, local politicians and family members of the Parkland shooting victims.
“We want to live in a country where children can go to school and not fear that they won’t come home,” said Julia Fenster, Avalon’s mom, and the founding chairperson of March for Our Lives Long Island. “Where parents saying goodbye to their children in the morning don’t fear it is the final goodbye. Where teachers only need to worry about teaching and not about being a human shield.”
Melissa Beigel, the sister of Dix Hills native Scott Beigel, spoke at the rally. Beigel was a geography teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who was shot and killed while attempting to lock his classroom door to protect students.
Avalon Fenster publicly called for politicians to pass stricter gun control legislation in the wake of the shootings. The student organizer acknowledged that U.S. citizens are entitled the right to bear arms but highlighted that there is a significant difference between colonial-era rifles and assault rifles.
“People forget that the 2nd Amendment was created in colonial times when they used a rifle that only shot about two bullets in three minutes,” she said. “Now we have automatic weapons that can shoot 140 rounds in three minutes. We are not trying to abridge people’s rights, but we do think that human life should take priority over material ownership and convenience of that ownership.”
“All you students, your voices count. Fight for change.”
— Paul Guttenberg
Rally organizers took turns reading the names of all the people who have been killed in a mass shooting since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. This somber act caused a quiet hush to sweep over those gathered.
Former U.S. Rep Steve Israel (D-Huntington), who left office in January 2017, spoke about the voting behavior of elected officials he witnessed while in office.
“I spent 16 years watching people in Congress voting no for laws that would have kept us safe,” Israel said. “Each time I kept thinking that this time would be different, but they kept voting no. They didn’t want to let down their [National Rifle Association] voters.”
Among the signs carried by rally participants included “NRA profits are bathed in the blood of our children.” Israel has written a 320-page book titled “Big Guns,” a comical novel about the firearms industry and Washington politics, which is currently scheduled to be published in April.
“If adult politicians can’t keep you safe, you vote against them,” he said, to which the crowd responded with “vote them out.” “Change is coming and you are our change. We are going to make the world safe again.”
Commack resident Paul Guttenberg, uncle of slain 14-year-old Parkland student Jaime Guttenberg, took to the stage to publicly address a crowd for the first time.
“All the students who died in these mass shootings had their voices robbed from them. Now we have to be their voices.”
— Max Robins
“She will never get to go to college, get married or have children of her own because of assault rifles,” he said. “Mass shooting can happen in any town in this country. We have to stop gun violence in this country and ban assault rifles.”
Guttenberg encouraged those students at the rally to use the rally’s momentum to keep pushing for stricter gun legislation.
“All you students, your voices count,” he said. “Fight for change.”
Isabelle Kaufman, a 16-year-old student at Half Hollow Hills East, echoed his sentiments as she spoke to those gathered about the need to hold the federal government and elected officials accountable.
“All of this happened because of a 19-year-old who couldn’t be trusted to purchase alcohol, but he was allowed to purchase an assault rifle,” she said. “Students should go to school in fear of taking a test, not in fear of their lives.”
The crowd, moved by the speeches, took up the chant of “No more silence. No more violence.”
Max Robins, a member of the March for Our Lives Long Island group, concluded the two-hour rally with a motivating speech and call to action.
“All the students who died in these mass shootings had their voices robbed from them,” Robins said. “Now we have to be their voices. And we are the voice that will not be silenced. We will not be forgotten.”