You could call it Walkout Wednesday at high schools all over Kentucky-students leaving class in solidarity to end gun violence.
“This protest is not about leaving your class," said Jack Eason, president of the Young Democrats Club at Bowling Green High School. "It’s about sending a message to Frankfort, to Washington DC, that we’re not going to put up with this anymore.”
Eason's group organized the walkout that drew about 200 BGHS students. The goal of the march, like others held simultaneously around the U.S., was to turn up the heat on Congress to pass more stringent gun laws. Sixteen-year-old Olivia Johnson wants lawmakers to impose a ban on semi-automatic rifles.
“We as students want action and we’re not going to stop until we get some action," Johnson told WKU Public Radio.
Johnson held a sign that read “Fear Has No Place in Our Schools.” The Bowling Green High School junior said the era of complacency is over. Student protesters like Johnson said if it can happen in Parkland, Florida or Benton, Kentucky when two students were killed in January, the next school shooting could happen in their community.
“I’ve heard of a lot of students who are scared to come to school, scared of fire alarms now, just because of situations that have happened," she added.
Fifteen-year-old Braxton Bell thinks young people have grabbed the attention of policymakers and gives much of the credit to the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where a classmate killed 17 students and staff exactly one month ago. Survivors turned their grief into activism, and Bell said when it comes to gun control, students should be part of the conversation.
“We care as much as parents do about what’s going on in the world, so I think our voice matters a lot.”
The Bowling Green High students stood outside around the school’s flagpole for 17 minutes, one minute for each of the victims in last month’s school attack in Florida. They chanted "enough is enough."
Eighteen-year-old Kaitlyn Bowling stood on a bench outside the school to rally her fellow students. Like Bowling, most teenagers walked out for unsaid goodbyes and lives taken too soon.
“We’re here because this is a situation happening to us, our generation, to our peers," shouted Bowling. "We’re the ones who have to come to school every day, sit in those desks, wondering if we’re next.”
Bowling said the 141 students who have died in school shootings since the Columbine massacre in 1999 were all senseless tragedies that she thinks could have been prevented.
“Why didn’t this stop 18 years ago? Why didn’t this stop after Sandy Hook," Bowling questioned. "Why is it that a month after Parkland you can still go to the store and purchase a weapon of war?”
A small counter protest drew boos from the wave of students who walked out of class in support of tighter gun laws. Sixteen-year-old Derek Foland held a poster that read, “Guns Don’t Kill, People Do.”
“People use guns to kill. Guns don’t magically grow legs and arms and shoot people," remarked Foland. "We’re protesting that it’s our Second Amendment right. We agree that gun laws should be maybe stricter, but guns shouldn’t be taken away.”
While students around the country walked out of school, they were also encouraged to walk up-up to the kid sitting alone at lunch or the kid always chosen last in P.E. Senior Kaitlyn Bowling acknowledged that students have obligations themselves when it comes to stemming gun violence.
“I definitely think it’s important that we as students go up to those outsiders and those kids who might be having personal issues or mental health issues because sometimes people just need a friend," commented Bowling.
Fearful of the next school shooting, some Bowling Green High students said Wednesday was day one of a new era of student engagement. The youth pledged to fight until no more futures are stolen.