Students walk out for gun control

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CLINTON OLSASKY, Executive Editor | [email protected]

Yesterday, Feb. 21, nearly 200 UNI students gathered around the Campanile to stand in solidarity with survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that left 17 dead on Valentine’s Day.

The event on Wednesday was set up as a walkout to take place at noon, at which point the students who gathered around the Campanile discussed the issue of gun control and expressed their frustration with the actions, or lack thereof, taken by politicians at the state and federal level.

“It’s getting to a point where I’m scared. I’m sitting in class thinking of the best exit,” said Emily Paul, the student who organized Wednesday’s walkout. “How many rows do I have to jump over? How quick can I do it? When I go to school, I should be focusing on notes. I should be focusing on what I’m learning. I shouldn’t be focusing on how I need to be safe.”

Paul opened yesterday’s walkout encouraging all those in attendance to contact their local representatives — namely, Iowa Senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley.

“We must register to vote!” Paul spoke into a megaphone on Wednesday. “We must get new people with empathy into office.”

After Paul, representatives from Northern Iowa Democrats and Northern Iowa Feminists spoke to the crowd of students, echoing Paul’s sentiments to call their representatives.

Following this, the students in attendance were led in chanting “Not one more,” in reference to the increasing frequency of school shootings around the country.

Paul then assumed the megaphone and instructed the crowd to join her in a moment of silence in remembrance of the 17 victims of last week’s shooting in Florida.

It was after this point that attendees were encouraged to step up and speak into the megaphone, voicing their concerns over gun control and the high rate of school shootings in the past year.

“This should not be happening. It’s ridiculous,” said one student. “I was raised Republican. I was raised with the belief that we all have the right to bear arms, and I don’t believe that anymore.”

Sophomore social science education major Tyler Fulks expressed concern with his future role in the classroom.

“I shouldn’t have to be armed to the teeth with guns to fend off AR-15s being carried into a damn school,” Fulks said. “I’m tired of being scared, and I’m tired of being scared for my students.”

Yet another student stepped up to speak, stressing the need to act and not merely empathize during times of tragedy.

“I want to tell you all that you are loved,” the student said. “But I can’t tell you that you are safe. Love cannot stop a bullet. It’s time to stand up.”

One student then called out, “No more thoughts and prayers,” eliciting some applause and similar chants.

“We are the second-youngest generation born in a nation raised on the ideal, that everyone should be able to live free, live happy, and live proud,” said Aricson Jakob. “But you can’t be happy, or free, or proud, if you’ve been murdered by a weapon that is built to kill as fast as possible. 200 years later, why should we uphold a document that wasn’t built for the technology that we have? Why should we uphold a law that is making it possible for me to go to a store and buy a machine that can kill dozens of people per minute? Why are people defending this?”

Following these voluntary remarks, Paul returned to the front of the crowd to close the protest, urging everyone to, once again, call their representatives before leading another “Not one more” chant.

After the event, Paul explained why she decided to organize Wednesday’s walkout, citing Emma Gonzales and the other survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as inspiration.

Paul, a sophomore majoring in elementary education, said the issue of school safety is also one of great concern to her.

“I’m not there to be a human shield. I’m not there to be a cop,” Paul said. “I’m here to teach students, and I’m here to change the future and mold the future. I’m not here to defend them from a bullet — although, if it comes to that, I will do it. But it shouldn’t be me in that position.”

Paul also pointed out that she is not a member of an on-campus political organization and that, while she did receive support from groups like the Northern Iowa Democrats, the walkout was initially her own idea.

The Northern Iowa Democrats will be hosting a gun control protest of their own this Friday, Feb. 23, at Rod Blum’s office on Main Street in Cedar Falls at 10 a.m.

Sophomore elementary education major Trevor Fletcher used the protest to rally support for forming a student organization to advocate for gun control.

“I thought it was great that we got everyone together,” Fletcher said. “We’ll do everything we can to get some sort of change. Quit talking — and start doing.”

— News Editor Jacob Madden contributed to this story