Hundreds of Minnesota students walked out of their classrooms Friday to push for stricter gun-control measures and mark the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.
It was the second such walkout in about a month, with Minnesota students converging on the steps of the State Capitol and joining the more than 2,000 walkouts held nationwide to protest what they say is a lack of change since the 1999 Colorado shooting that killed 13 people and shocked the nation.
Today’s teens have only read about the horror in history books, but many of them were galvanized after the Parkland, Fla., shooting two months ago that killed 17 people. It has spurred a student-led national movement to pressure policymakers to step up gun control measures.
“It should’ve stopped after Columbine,” said Ava Cantlon, 15, a student at Avalon School in St. Paul. “There have been many mass shootings in the United States, and we have done nothing.”
At the Capitol, students passed out voter registration cards, and at other events across the metro, they wrote letters to lawmakers.
“It’s crazy to me to think about that this stuff was happening way back when my parents were still in school,” said Andrew Glassing, 16, who walked 2 miles to the Capitol with about 40 St. Paul Central High classmates. “We should be the generation to change it.”
Outside a park pavilion in St. Paul, red, silver and blue balloons listing names of Columbine and Parkland victims waved in the wind as Highland Park Senior High students scrawled messages on tables in chalk.
“It’s so important that we … keep that pressure going especially up until the midterms,” said senior Archer Gallivan, 18, who helped lead a walkout with about 200 classmates.
Highland Park sophomore Isabella Vazquez added: “We’re all kind of fed up with this … all the inaction that’s happened since Columbine.”
It wasn’t just students pushing for change. Early Friday morning, about 60 parents of Barton, a K-8 school in Minneapolis, led a group of students in a protest.
“This was our way to follow up with them and show them that we care about what they are going through and that we’re listening and that we’re taking action,” parent Kari Scharff said.
In March, students rallied at the State Capitol and walked out of school in a nationwide protest demanding stricter gun laws. Some students went to Washington, D.C., for the March for Our Lives demonstration, organized by Florida teens, while a crowd of 20,000 people gathered in St. Paul.
Friday’s rally drew several hundred students traveling to St. Paul from cities like Minnetonka and Rochester.
Across the state, some students have chosen not to participate in walkouts, disagreeing with the politicized stance. In Colorado, Columbine students also didn’t walk out Friday, instead holding a traditional day of service.
There was no organized walkout at Bloomington high schools on Friday either.
Rick Kaufman, the district’s spokesman, worked at Columbine in 1999 and was one of the first responders. In an era before social media as an organizing tool, he said, few protests happened after the shooting.
“Everybody was just shell-shocked,” he said.
In contrast, today’s teens are mobilizing en masse through hashtags and viral videos — hopefully creating the change Columbine couldn’t, he said.
“It’s a horrible legacy that, in 19 years, we continue to have these mass shootings in schools,” said Kaufman, who’s given advice to Parkland school leaders. “It’s frustrating and extremely sad.”
Shift to lobbying
At other west metro schools, it was a regular school day, too. Some students said they worry energy and attention for activism may be fizzling.
“The ubiquity of gun violence in this country is ridiculous,” said Carrie Kisicki, 18, a student at Carleton College in Northfield. “People need to be reminded periodically that this is worth fighting for.”
That’s why, after organizing a rally Friday, she’s launching a Students Demand Action chapter. Elsewhere, students have held town hall meetings. On Monday, students will lobby at the State Capitol.
“It lets legislators know we’re not going away,” said Ben Jaeger, 16, a student at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis, who’s helping lead Students Demand Action. “November is coming and we’re all going to turn 18 very soon.”
Staff writer Faiza Mahamud and Ryan Faircloth and Jeyca Maldonado-Medina, two University of Minnesota students on assignment for the Star Tribune, contributed to this story.