“Regulation isn’t scary, getting shot is,” read one of the signs carried Wednesday by one of the hundreds of Minneapolis high school students who marched on City Hall to tell policymakers they want action to stop gun violence.
“How many more shootings will it take?” one student asked through a megaphone from the steps of City Hall. The students took turns addressing the energetic crowd until Mayor Jacob Frey arrived and encouraged their enthusiasm with his own.
“What we all want to tell you is we have your back,” he said, pointing to City Council members nearby. “You all are the gun lobby’s absolute worst nightmare.”
The student march in Minneapolis and a similar one in Rochester paralleled events across the country in reaction to last week’s Florida school shooting. The students say Congress has been cowed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), but they aren’t and they want action on meaningful gun control.
Shortly after the rally on the steps in front of the statue of former Vice President Hubert Humphrey, they sped up the stairs to the third floor, where the City Council’s Intergovernmental Relations Committee was meeting to discuss the 2018 legislative agenda. The panel set aside 15 minutes to allow some of the students to speak.
The students filled the chamber, the hallway outside and an overflow room across the hall that was wired with video.
The room and hallway fell silent when Faydane Ouro-Akondo, a 17-year-old senior at Southwest High School, stepped to the microphone. “This is not about who our president is,” he said. “This is about children dying.”
He said he’s aware of the slogan “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” but he doesn’t buy it. If someone launched an attack in a school with a knife, one person might get hurt before police arrived, he said.
The students acknowledged the real power for change is in the Legislature and in Washington, D.C., but said they are part of a nationwide action decrying the influence of the NRA on Congress.
Council members on the committee praised the students and told them to keep pushing. Then the panel added a provision to its legislative agenda encouraging lawmakers to ban assault weapons, silencers, bump stocks and extended magazines.
That means the city’s lobbyists will encourage a new law, but they’re unlikely to have much influence. The council and Minneapolis legislators are much more liberal on such issues than many members of the state House and Senate.
“Our underlying message is we don’t want to be fearful in our schools,” said Collin Robinson, an 18-year-old senior at Southwest and student body president.
Ahmed Warsame, a 17-year-old senior at South High, was vocal outside and inside City Hall. “We have one thing in common; we cannot take any more school shootings,” Warsame said on the steps.
To the council, he said, “It’s like in a way the NRA has Congress on a chokehold,” and rattled off other sites of mass school shootings from Sandy Hook to Columbine.
Also Wednesday, survivors of the shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., descended on the State Capitol in Tallahassee to demand tighter gun control.
On Thursday, the Minnesota State Capitol will be the scene of a rally for “sensible gun laws” organized by Protect Minnesota, a nonprofit advocating tighter gun control. The group opposes measures that would expand existing rights of gun owners in the state.
Walkouts are planned for March and April, as well as efforts to make a strong state presence at a “March For Our Lives” protest in Washington on March 24. Other schools are planning to join another national high school walkout on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shootings.
Wednesday’s protest was worth missing class, said Lily Flanders, a sophomore at Southwest High School, as she quietly awaited the start of the march at Martin Luther King Park in south Minneapolis. “Every voice makes a difference,” she said, adding that if there’s any way to be heard by policymakers, “it’s this.”
Minneapolis Public Schools officials issued a statement saying school leaders will discuss the district’s approach to the upcoming national walkouts. “We will not discipline students for the act of protesting as long as the protest remains peaceful. However, the best way for us to ensure student safety during the school day is to know where our students are — that’s simply not possible once they leave school grounds.”