Students plan to keep up pressure until gun laws change

Posted March 1, 2018 7:48 p.m. EST

— One day after thousands of students staged walkouts at two Triangle schools to protest gun violence, the organizers of one said Thursday that such demonstrations will continue until tighter gun laws are enacted.

An estimated 2,000 students walked out of class Wednesday at Green Hope High School in Cary, and a smaller demonstration was staged at the School for Creative Studies in Durham. The walkouts came two weeks after a Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 people.

"Gun violence and violence in schools, that’s been our whole lives. It’s something we’ve grown up with. It’s a part of our culture," said Ryan Kemper, one of the organizers of the Green Hope High walkout.

Similar protests following other school shootings haven't resulted in any change, but Kemper said the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., is different.

"Hearing some of the students that were impacted at Stoneman Douglas that were speaking out the first day, that was something I don't really recall ever seeing before on any of the prior occurrences," Kemper said. "Our hearts have been broken one time too many, and I think the kids really are going to speak out this time, and I don’t know if we’re going to stop until we see something enacted."

Peyton Barish, who also organized the Green Hope High walkout, said teens have grown up in the shadow of shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 and Sandy Hook Elementary School a little over five years ago. Politicians would be wise not to ignore them.

"As a politician, if you’re not going to listen to us, we’re going to vote you out of office," Barish said. "We have that power now because all of us are coming to voting age. We understand that things need to change, and things haven't changed for so long. It's time for our story to be written."

Social media gives today's students an unprecedented way to communicate and organize, and they are using it to their advantage, North Carolina Teacher of the Year Bobbie Cavnar said.

"When Sandy Hook happened, a lot of us felt this has to be the one that changes everything, but the Sandy Hook children were too young to be able to speak for themselves," said Cavnar, an English teacher at South Point High School in Belmont. "The kids at Stoneman Douglas can speak for themselves, can come out and say, 'I lived through this. This is what it was like,' and I think that's a dynamic change."

Barish and Kemper say they're helping organize more protests, including a major rally in downtown Raleigh on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High shooting.