#NationalHighSchoolWalkout movement comes on 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting

By Rita J. Egan

A student-led movement at Ward Melville is determined to ensure the voices of high schoolers continue to be heard when it comes to preventing gun violence.

On April 20 — 19 years after the Columbine High School shooting — about four dozen members of WM Students Take Action participated in the second wave of the #NationalWalkout movement. While the number of participants was about 200 less than the March 14 walkout, held a month after the Parkland, Florida, shooting, participating students nonetheless braved a chilly, windy day to stand in solidarity to call for stricter gun control legislation.

“You can say that we are young. You can say that we don’t know our fate. We don’t know how to stand up for ourselves. But if we don’t, who will?”

— Ward Melville student

With a megaphone in hand, senior Bennett Owens led the crowd outside of school. Students read poems and gave speeches for 45 minutes. The rally included a moment of silence to remember Columbine victims, and in-between speeches, participants would shout out chants including “Listen to us” or “Show me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like.”

During the rally, Owens said the protesters were asking for common-sense gun legislation, including a ban on “assault-style rifles” and universal background checks. He said when our forefathers wrote the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, they had no idea the type of weapons that could be made. He added his generation is the most qualified to speak about the issue because of the number of shootings that have occurred during their lifetimes.

One speaker encouraged the group not to listen to those who call them irrational. She said their detractors believe they want to ban all guns, instead of just assault weapons, because the opposition doesn’t engage them in conversation.

“We actually have ideas, we have plans, and we will vote,” she said.

Many of the students talked about how they are part of the generation of change. One girl who delivered a speech told her fellow students not to be afraid of punishment when it comes to protests and to disregard criticism that young people don’t know what they are talking about.

“What can a bunch of high schoolers know about change?” she said. “The high schoolers are the ones who are dying. Their opinions are the only opinions that really matter. You can say that we are young. You can say that we don’t know our fate. We don’t know how to stand up for ourselves. But if we don’t, who will?”

“Not as many people as last time but everyone who was here is really passionate. I’m very excited about what’s to come from this movement.”

— Bennett Owens

During the 45-minute protest, drivers passing by honked sporadically to show their support, and for 15 minutes, nearly a dozen Ward Melville students stood outside with signs that read “Join the NRA,” opposite the protesters.

After the walkout, Owens said he was feeling optimistic.

“Not as many people as last time but everyone who was here is really passionate,” he said. “I’m very excited about what’s to come from this movement.

No more protests are planned for the rest of the school year, Owens explained, but on Gun Violence Awareness Day, June 1, the group hopes to sell ribbons at school and donate the funds to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun control and against gun violence.

Owens, who wants to be a criminal defense attorney, said he plans to continue his activism in college and has faith WM Students Take Action will continue.

“I have to pass down this organization soon, and I’m really hopeful based on the turnout we’ve seen today by underclassmen that this organization will continue to protest for the injustices that we’ve seen,” he said.

Despite concerns posted on the group’s Instagram page before the walkout, the students faced no disciplinary action, according to an April 23 statement from school district spokeswoman Jessica Novins.

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