Chicago-Area Students Stage Walkouts To Protest Nation's Gun Laws | WBEZ
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Morning Shift

Chicago-Area Students Stage Walkouts To Protest Nation's Gun Laws

Students at several Chicago-area high schools are planning more walkouts to show solidarity with the survivors of the recent mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students were killed by a former classmate.

“It’s not fair that we have to be scared,” said 17-year-old Angela Rojas, a senior at Schaumburg High School, in an interview with Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia. “We shouldn’t have to take part in these [active shooter] drills in a place where you should be safe all the time.”

This week, students at high schools located in St. Charles, Oak Park, Schaumburg, Aurora, and other nearby suburbs marched outside their schools for 17 minutes — one minute for each person shot and killed in last week’s school massacre.

Local students say they are planning more walkouts to coincide with the one-month anniversary of the Stoneman Douglas shooting in March, as well as the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in April.

Max Freeman, a 17-year-old senior at Oak Park and River Forest High School, said he is organizing a local protest on March 14.

“Before the walkout can be effective, it has to be unified and organized,” he said. “It’s so important that we connect more schools across Illinois [and work on] a greater outreach to schools in districts represented by people who are against increasing gun control. The walkouts at those schools are really important to putting the pressure on those lawmakers.”

Morning Shift opened up the phones to talk with students and organizers about the walkouts, how demonstrations are playing out in schools, and what kinds of legislation they’d like to see. Below are highlights from the show.

‘We can make a difference’

Connor Hartweg, 17, senior at Oak Park and River Forest High School: We’ve already started talking about how we can contact our state and local lawmakers. We are getting groups together to call them. We’re trying to get together buses from Oak Park to Washington D.C. for the April 24 march. We’re going to keep the momentum going until lawmakers do something.

Not being allowed to vote isn’t a detriment to engage

Skyler Wuesthenfeld, 17, junior at St. Charles North High School: Our teachers and administrators let us out of the school building and said conduct peaceful protests. They wouldn’t stop us because it was our right.

About 30 students joined — not as much as some other schools — but I know many more plan to go to the March and April marches. We want to make sure everyone knows we can actually do something.

A lot of people think, “Hey, we’re just teenagers or just students, and we don’t have any political power to vote yet.” But we are a movement and we are doing things making national news now. My parents did not even know I was planning to participate in a walkout until last night. No one told me to do this. This comes from the heart and it’s something we feel.

I think everyone should be together, in support of each other. Just because a school shooting happened in another state, doesn’t mean it won’t affect us.

What legislation is being considered at local, national levels

Jenny Stadelmann, leader of the Deerfield chapter of Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America: We have not seen any good gun reform since Sandy Hook. We know [U.S. Rep.] Brad Schneider and two senators are big supporters of us. We have calling tools to get people to call their Congress members, and we’re tracking the bills at the federal level.

Sadly, we’re on the defensive right now. There are two bills that are the National Rifle Association’s top priorities right now: one would legalize silencers, and the other, called Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which takes any state’s lowest common denominator on what’s required to get a concealed carry license — no permitting, no background checks whatsoever — and applies that to every state.

We also have a legislative bill to stop the tide of illegal gun sales, called the Gun Dealers Licensing Act, in the works. In Illinois, we have many state representatives that are not supportive of this bill currently or are undecided, and they need to hear from their constituents.

Our “Throw Them Out” campaign asks people to commit to voting on the issue of gun safety, to helping students register to vote, and to encourage them to follow how much money people running for office are taking money from the NRA. The student voices are important. These high school students are the future of our country — and many of them can vote.

These interview highlights have been edited for brevity and clarity by digital producer Gabrielle Wright. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation.

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