“All I hope to see is a safer world, one where we can feel like our homes and educational environments aren’t in harm’s way,” said ORHS’ Gabbe Albert (‘19) while attending a rally calling for gun control regulations in Portsmouth’s Market Square on Wednesday, March 14th.
The rally, officially called #Enough-March For Our Lives, was organized through Facebook and allowed both students, teachers, and community members from around the Seacoast to come together to protest the nation’s lack of regulation of its gun control laws. Many supporters of the event believe that this lack of regulation has been an important factor in the 18 school shootings recorded in the United States this year. The most deadly shooting of the 18, which occurred last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, served as the basis for the rally’s date: exactly one month after the tragedy.
“I think it’s very important to not be anonymous right now,” said Danielle Miles, a teacher at a Portsmouth alternative high school called Worcester Academy. “My students chose to come here today, and they asked us teachers for support. I think it’s really important to show our children that it’s not ‘us versus them’ and that we’re in this fight together.”
Togetherness was a main theme on Wednesday. In addition to the rally, many students also chose to walk out of their schools from 10:00-10:17 a.m. in solidarity for the 17 lives lost in Parkland on February 14th. Bridget Danielson, a student from Exeter High School, participated in one of these walk outs and said, “walking out gave us students a voice to speak about the shooting that happened a month ago. It was important to honor the victims and show both strength and conviction in our beliefs until people listen and things change.”
Danielson’s points were emphasised by Portsmouth High School’s Tucker Lloyd, who attended the rally because “there have been enough shootings within schools and that needs to change. Safety is our number one goal right now, not preserving the right to own guns. We can’t change what will happen in the future until the children are safe, and school is supposed to be a guaranteed place for that. To me, it shouldn’t even be a question, because school is where we’re constantly growing and learning. To do both of those things, we need to be safe — no questions asked.”
Though the crowd was mostly made up of high schoolers and teachers, a few middle schoolers were also in attendance. Julia Welsh and Ophelia Settie from Portsmouth Middle School shared their viewpoints, noting, “we just want to see an end to gun violence within schools. Even though we’re in middle school, this issue affects all kids of all ages, which is especially scary. Doing anything is better than nothing though, so we decided to come and show support to all of our peers.”
Another student from Portsmouth High school, Jordan Schefferman, also felt strongly that safety is a number one priority. “We’re here to stop gun violence in schools; the number of shootings within the academic community has been too high for too long. We also want to see policy change, to try and make it harder for people to obtain guns, especially like the assault rifle used in the Parkland shooting.” Schefferman continued, adding that if she could talk to a current administrative member from the United States, she would say, “the safety of children and people in schools is way more important that any amount of money that the NRA could possibly give to politicians.”
Christine Kelly, an adult supporter from the local community, also felt especially strongly that policy change needs to be made, especially when regarding the NRA. “It doesn’t matter if the kids that are being killed are in kindergarten or college. To me, it’s ridiculous that they’re being shot while going to school to better themselves.” As a former NRA member and current gun owner herself, Kelly also had strong views about the current administration’s views on gun laws. “With the people in power being so strongly controlled by the NRA’s money, we need to be even more aware of how the laws, or lack thereof, are affecting the people. In my opinion, assault rifles, which are what’s being used in many of these shootings, aren’t needed. I think people can use other types of guns responsibly, but at the end of the day, it’s the people’s government, not the NRA’s.”
Though some, like Kelly, have found a clear line between both sides of gun control, it isn’t as easy for others. “I feel like many people in New England are very open about their thoughts, but are also very open to hear about what everyone else has to say about issues in our society,” said Albert. “Yes, many people do support the right to bear arms, however times are changing and it’s hard to argue that our country isn’t becoming more unsafe with each school shooting. I feel like the people who showed up here today don’t necessarily only want to argue, they just want to use their voices to make our country safer than what is has become and prevent it from turning into a world where gaining knowledge means risking your life.”
Building off Albert’s ideas was one bystander who asked not to be named due to the fact that she was not a direct participant in the rally. “This support is very inspiring to see,” she said. “My own kids are in 4th and 7th grade and I completely agree with the rally’s message. They shouldn’t have to worry about bullet-proofing their backpacks and participating in lockdown drills. The only thing they should have to worry about is which friend they’re going to be hanging out with after school or what they are learning about in basic Algebra.” She continued, adding, “students are the only ones who can truly inspire change. It’s going to all come from them, and seeing scenes like the one in Market Square make me hopeful for a brighter tomorrow.”
By Devan McClain