Students behind the historic March for Our Lives walkouts are taking their movement to the next level this summer: action.
Led by students from Parkland, Fla., March for Our Lives has launched a national bus tour to register young voters and campaign for gun-control legislation ahead of the November midterm elections. The 20-state tour is scheduled to stop in Minnesota from Sunday through Tuesday.
The Road to Change tour includes 20 students, mostly from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where a shooter killed 17 people on Valentine’s Day in one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.
“Thousands rallied behind us at the walkouts and marches we [held],” said Ryan Deitsch, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School graduate and bus-tour member. “In the second phase, we want to empower people to express themselves and change the system through voting.”
Their focus is on the 4 million people turning 18 this year.
Parkland students on the tour along with 50 local students will stop at the Twin Cities Pride Festival on Sunday for a voter-registration drive. Later that day, there will be a town-hall meeting at Osseo Senior High School. The tour will also host a cookout at 1 p.m. on Monday before heading to Moorhead, Minn., for another event the next day.
“We are aspiring for a system where people do not die at the hands of the people who should not have hands on guns in the first place,” said Austin Berger, a University of Minnesota student who is coordinating the event at the Pride Festival on behalf of Students Demand Action, one of the groups that organized the spring walkouts.
Other groups, such as Moms Demand Action, West Metro Walkout, and Minnesota Students for Change, are also assisting with local events.
Among the campaign goals: implementing universal background checks, creating a searchable database for gun owners, funding the Centers for Disease Control to research gun violence and banning high-capacity magazines and semiautomatic assault rifles.
In spring, hundreds of Minnesota students walked out of their classrooms to push for stricter gun-control measures. Also, hundreds of students traveled to Washington, D.C., to join young activists in the massive March for Our Lives rally to protest gun violence.
Shruthi Srinivasan, a student at Maple Grove Senior High who helped organize the walkouts at her school, will be on a panel with Parkland students at the town-hall meeting Sunday. “At the end of the day, real change is brought by voting,” she said.
One of the bus tour’s goals is to stand up to the National Rifle Association (NRA), which organizers say has had a strong hold on many elected officials and candidates.
They deliberately chose the site for the Minnesota town-hall meeting.
“The town-hall meeting is being held in Minnesota’s Third District to highlight Rep. Erik Paulsen’s lack of action on gun reforms and that he has taken over $20,000 in NRA campaign contributions,” said Laurie Wolfe, the event coordinator.
She is also the co-chair of Indivisible MN03, a group in Minnesota’s Third Congressional District that describes itself as a “progressive grass-roots network ... to resist the Trump Agenda.”
Paulsen disputed the accusations about his record.
“Rep. Paulsen helped lift the ban on federal research into gun violence,” said John Elizandro, a Paulsen spokesman. “He’s teamed up with Republicans and Democrats — including Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) who represents Parkland, Fla. — to co-author bipartisan legislation expanding gun violence restraining orders that remove an individual’s access to guns when there is evidence they are a danger to themselves and others. He’s also supported more funding for school security and improved training for first responders.”
Gun-rights supporters question the movement’s effectiveness.
“Violent crimes have been down 50 percent in the last 25 years [in Minnesota]. In that same time, gun ownership has skyrocketed,” said Rob Doar of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus.
Dakota Overland, 15, from St. Paul, said while she appreciated students speaking up about such an important issue, she disagreed with the movement’s solution.
“As a law-abiding citizen, imposing further restrictions on me and my family and community aren’t going to keep our schools safer,” she said. “At my high school, we do not have a school-resource officer. If a tragedy similar to the Florida shooting were to take place, our only plan is to hide in a classroom and call the police. I am more fearful of being defenseless and unable to have protection right there than anything,” said Overland, who is part of DC Project, a nonpartisan group consisting of 50 women — one from each state — representing gun owners and Second Amendment supporters.
The Road for Change tour that started in Chicago last weekend will move from Minnesota to Bismarck, N.D., next week.
This article contains material from the Associated Press.