Students across the South Sound joined a nationwide class walkout Wednesday in an effort to generate support for stronger gun-control legislation.
The walkouts come a month after 17 people were killed in a shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
Among Wednesday’s rallies, high school students at Annie Wright, Bellarmine, Gig Harbor, Wilson, Mount Tahoma, Olympia, Peninsula, Puyallup and Rogers planned to walk out for 17 minutes, a minute for each of those killed in the Florida shooting.
Tacoma School of the Arts students rallied in downtown Tacoma.
Jason Lee Middle School students lined Division Avenue while holding signs and chanting.
“End gun violence including police brutality,” read one while others supported Black Lives Matter.
“I shouldn’t be scared to get my education!” one sign read.
In Tacoma’s Theater District, boys from Annie Wright School stood while students from Seabury Middle School sat in silence for 17 minutes.
“I am out here protesting the recent school shooting in Florida and the fact that recently people have stopped feeling safe in school due to these many school shootings and gun violence,” said Philip Greene, an Annie Wright freshman. “I hope that people start to listen because this is not the first time something like this has happened, and it very well might not be the last. I hope that people will finally start to listen and finally start to, at least, doing something.”
About 200 students at Puyallup High School, some carrying signs with names of the 17 killed in the school shooting in Florida, marched to Pioneer Park.
“We came together to organize this walkout because we wanted to be a part of the greater movement that’s going on around the nation,” said Puyallup senior Rimpal Bajwa. “We just want to be a part of the conversation that the students in Parkland started to support them and show solidarity with them.”
Outside Wilson High School, a flood of students poured out of the school at 10 a.m., many carrying signs.
“Not in our schools,” hundreds of students chanted. “Not in our streets.”
Several students held a banner that read, “Ban assault weapons now!!”
One of them was Elizabeth Buchanan, a 16-year-old sophomore.
“We don’t need automatic guns or assault weapons or anything like that,” Buchanan said.
After the Florida shooting, Wilson held a school safety drill, she said.
“It made me feel angry that we had to do that,” Buchanan said.
“There should be more control on guns,” said Kerstin Borden, a 15-year-old sophomore. “Guns are the reason people are dying.”
Not all of the Wilson students supported the gun control message.
Some chanted, “Second Amendment rights.”
At 10:17 a.m., the Wilson students held a moment of silence for the victims of the Florida shooting. They then returned to their classrooms.
Students at Gig Harbor High School also participated in the walkout.
Student Griffin Bird, 18, said a student-led movement can have a significant effect.
“Because us students are the ones who are most impacted by these shootings we see in the media,” Bird said. “We can vote in a few years, so it’s a call to legislatures to start solving these issues.”
Alex Davidson, 17, feels the threat of gun violence is ever present.
“I worry about if I am going to get shot, if my friends are going to get shot or if the first graders I volunteer for are going to get shot next door. Are we going to go to school not knowing if someone who was able to get a weapon is going to walk in a shoot us.”
Peninsula School District Superintendent Rob Manahan attended the walkout to thank the students for the way they organized the event.
“Whether we agree or disagree with their opinions, the way they organized this was respectful and safe,” Manahan said. “That is a learning experience. We can replicate these things in our classroom but these kids chose to learn about it this way.”
Puyallup High School senior Sarah Kurpius doesn’t think school safety has to be a partisan issue.
“We want both sides to come together,” Kurpius said. “We’re fighting for safety in schools and for people. We’re not like anti-gun or anything like that. We just want to make sure that the regulation we have allows the people that want to have guns and use them safely but the people that shouldn’t have guns don’t have access to them. Ideally, both sides would come together and try to draft legislation that appeals to both constituents.”
Reporters Kate Martin, Allison Needles and Danielle Chastaine contributed to this report.