At John F. Kennedy Middle School in Northampton, a police officer and administrator kept outsiders clear of hundreds of students gathered outside, but their words were audible in the cold, March morning.
Students went up to a microphone one by one and gave the name and age of a school shooting victim — often 13, 14, or 15 — then recited statistics and demanded change from legislators in Congress on gun laws. In the crowd before them, many held signs that said “Enough,” “No more silence; end the violence,” and “17,” in reference to the number of lives lost in the recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
“We are here for one reason — to respect those 17 people who lost their lives in the Parkland shooting,” one student said. “Changing gun laws in this country is the biggest way we can show them respect.”
Students walked out of class across the country to spend 17 minutes reflecting on the 17 lives lost at the shooting in Parkland, Florida, exactly one month earlier, on Feb. 14.
Since the shooting in Parkland, student survivors of the shooting advocated for changes to Florida’s gun laws, and have been effective at moving the needle on the gun debate, though not as far as the activists themselves would like. Republican Governor Rick Scott of Florida signed a law prohibiting bump stocks, raising the age to buy certain guns to 21, and creating a three-day waiting period to buy some guns. The new law does not ban assault-style weapons, which students had been pushing for.
Those student activists — and their successes — have inspired other students across the country, including here in Western Mass.
At JFK Middle School, the young student delivered impassioned pleas for changes in gun legislation, some calling for it to be illegal for teens to legally purchase guns.
“We’ve watched children be murdered in their own schools,” one student said at the microphone. “We want to save our children from the horrors we’ve had to endure.”
Students pointed out that Congressmen, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, receive donations of hundreds of thousands of dollars from the National Rifle Association, and that multiple mass shootings have occurred in just the first three months of 2018.
One student said that Northampton is considered a safe place, but that is little comfort when many victims of school shootings consider their towns and schools safe places.
“Enough is enough, and we have to make a change,” another student said.
The walkout began at 10 a.m. and ended at 10:17 with a student trumpet player playing Taps, followed by a moment of silence.
A few minutes away, at Northampton High School, another student walkout took place. Students chanted “enough is enough” and other slogans over and over demanding a change in gun laws.
Stone Cornelius, a 14-year-old freshman at Northampton High, said he thought the student walkout was a great idea, though he did not believe it would have a big impact on the NRA or Congress.
“It hits you every time there’s a new shooting,” he said, adding that once he heard about the Parkland, Florida, shooting, he thought, “It’s getting ridiculous.”
Cornelius first learned about school shootings by watching a documentary about the 1999 Columbine shooting during which 12 students and one teacher were murdered. It frightened him, and he believes that students raising their voices for change is important.
While he doubts it will have an impact, he still hopes that it does.
The student walkouts are a prelude to another major piece of activism, a march on Washington, D.C., called “March for our Lives,” which will take place on March 24. Organizers are expecting half a million people to show up.
Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.