Student rally planned Sunday in Fort Wayne to protest government inaction on gun violence, preventing school shootings
Frustrated by political leaders’ lack of action to prevent gun violence, students in Fort Wayne and elsewhere are taking to the streets to protest.
IPFW students are planning a rally from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday at the Allen County Courthouse green, Brandon Blumenherst, the main organizer of the event, said via email.
The rally is a “direct response” to the shootings last Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which left 17 people dead and a number of others wounded, the rally news release said.
“I decided to organize the rally on Sunday because I am sick and tired of seeing a loss of student life due to our representatives’ unwillingness to pass legislation to help prevent gun violence and mass school shootings,” Blumenherst said.
“I see a repeated cycle after school shootings, which never results in action from Congress or the statehouse: Students lose their lives, community members grieve and press for action, some representatives try to work on legislation while others just send their thoughts and prayers, and then the bill fails to reach the floor for a vote due to partisan conflict,” Blumenherst said. “Protecting students’ lives should not be a partisan issue, but apparently, it has come to be just that.”
Protests also are taking place or planned at various locations around the country, according to reports from The Associated Press:
• On Monday in Iowa City, Iowa, about 200 students from two high schools and a junior high walked downtown to the Old Capitol building to protest the lack of government action on gun violence. The event included a reading of the names of the 17 people killed in the Parkland shooting.
• The network of people who organized the Women’s March the last two years in January in Washington has called for students to hold a 17-minute walkout from school at 10 a.m. March 14 — one minute for each of the 17 people killed in the Parkland school shooting.
• Survivors of that shooting reportedly are trying to organize a “March for Our Lives” event March 24 in Washington, D.C.
• The Network for Public Education, a group advocating for public schools, has announced a “national day of action” on April 20, encouraging students and teachers to organize walkouts, sit-ins, marches or other events to mark the anniversary of the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. In that incident, two students opened fire on their classmates, killing 12 students and one teacher.
At the rally Sunday at the Allen County Courthouse green, Blumenherst said the program will include speeches by high school students, college students, a college professor, concerned citizens and local political candidates.
“Many of the students who are speaking are members of student organizations, including the Mayor’s Youth Engagement Council, Fort Wayne College Democrats and Homestead’s Young Progressives,” he said.
Going forward, Blumenherst said rally organizers plan to work to draft a bipartisan formal request, which will be sent to area state and federal representatives, asking them to create and pass legislation that seeks to prevent gun violence and mass school shootings.
“Universal background checks, which would close the gun show loophole, was polled at 86 percent approval in a Gallup poll in 2015, but we haven’t seen any action on it,” Blumenherst said. “Banning high-capacity magazines, banning bump stocks (which was used in the Las Vegas shooting), and requiring mental health exams are some commonsense solutions which I believe could decrease the frequency and lethality of these mass shootings.
“Although measures like this do not ensure complete prevention of these school shootings, I believe they would help curb the rate at which they are occurring,” he said.
At the rally, Blumenherst said organizers also plan a voter registration drive and other action items for people so they can plug into larger initiatives advocating for the protection of students from gun violence.
Local schools will have to decide how they will respond if students join the calls for reducing gun violence and improving school safety by holding a walkout at 10 a.m. March 14 and organizing protests for April 20.
Fort Wayne Community Schools officials already have started talking about how they will handle student protests, if any take place.
“We know it is not anything we can ignore,” said Krista Stockman, FWCS public information officer.
Many students already know about the calls for action on those dates, and those who don’t now soon will know, Stockman said.
FWCS likely will view the protests as a teaching moment rather than an issue to avoid, she said. That fits with the district’s goal of helping youngsters grow into productive, useful citizens.
As long as students understand what they are going out to protest, the district will respect their decision, Stockman said.
FWCS supports students standing up for what they believe in, she said.
Information wasn’t available Monday on how other local public school districts and private high schools may respond if students try to participate in a walkout March 14 and a protest April 20.
At Northwest Allen County Schools, staff aren’t aware yet of any interest by students in participating in the walkout on March 14, said Lizette Downey, NACS chief communications officer.
“If students feel compelled to do something in response to the Parkland, Fla. event, NACS will work with them to find a way to express their feelings while maintaining an environment that focuses on learning,” Downey said via email.
“Safety of our students is the top priority of NACS,” Downey said. “Northwest Allen County Schools proactively engages in training sessions to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for our students.”
The school district consults public safety and first-responders to review safety plans and to learn from various situations, she said.