Bellevue students join the National School Walkout to call for gun control

March 19th, 2018

Bellevue High School junior Bridget Conroy listed off a series of sobering statistics in front of hundreds of her peers at the school’s courtyard Wednesday morning.

“Twenty-six people were killed in the massacre at Sandy Hook,” she said, referencing the country’s most deadly school shooting. “Seventeen people were killed at the massacre at Stoneman Douglas. Since this year began, there have been 19 school shootings. Since Sandy Hook, 1,607 school shootings have occurred.”

Conroy and the hundreds of other Bellevue students were among a National School Walkout movement that took place across the United States the morning of March 14, the one month anniversary of the Feb. 14 Parkland, Florida school shooting in which 17 were killed by a lone gunman.

“When will we say enough?” she asked the crowd. “When will the people in power stop making excuses and start protecting us? When will America stop relying on thoughts and prayers to make a change?”

The walkout was also organized as a way to bring awareness and demand action on various forms of gun control. Since the Parkland school shooting, teens have gained national media attention in their pursuit to convince Congress to enact legislation on gun control.

Bridget Conroy, a Bellevue High School junior, speaks at Bellevue High School’s National School Walkout on March 14. Raechel Dawson/staff photo

Although there has been stagnation at a national level, Bellevue’s Rep. Vandana Slatter, a Democrat with the 48th Legislative District, said the Washington state Legislature recently passed four bills centered on “common sense” gun control. Those new laws stipulate those who are convicted of domestic violence harassment will not be allowed to purchase guns; a law that banned bump stocks (Senate Bill 5992); and stricter concealed pistol license laws when those weapons are picked up by law enforcement (House Bill 2519); and the opportunity for individuals to put themselves on a no gun purchase/ownership list in case they have poor mental health or suicidal ideation (Senate Bill 5553).

Slatter, who was at the Bellevue High School student walkout, said the legislators were unable to this session but will still try to pass Senate Bill 6620, which would implement an emergency response system for school safety as well as prohibits the sale or transfer of semiautomatic rifles unless both a federal and a state background check have been completed through law enforcement. It would also prohibit a person under the age of 21 from being able to purchase a semiautomatic rifle.

“They’ve had enough,” Slatter said. “That’s what I really heard here. As a legislator, I wanted to be here in solidarity with them because I think that we struggle with how to resolve this issue and it shouldn’t be that hard for a first world country to do this.”

But not everyone agreed with the sentiment that gun control measures were the answer to reducing gun violence.

A solitary 16-year-old Bellevue High School sophomore, Charlie Kern, walked up to the front of the student walkout and held a sign that read: “More guns, less crime.”

Some were quick to try to block his message but he remained at the front throughout the last speech and during the moment of silence the students had for the 17 Stoneman Douglas High School students who were killed.

Bellevue High School student Charlie Kern holds a sign calling for “more guns, less crime” as another student holds a sign that reads “books, not bullets.” The walkout was student-led and students were able share their opinions and have a dialogue with one another. Raechel Dawson/staff photo

When asked about his stance, Kern responded, “I am holding this sign because I believe more guns equals less crime. I believe that background checks aren’t going to keep the illegals, or people, from getting guns.”

Bellevue High School sophomore Sofia Larrondo, 16, said she’s tired of feeling as though the issue of gun violence is being normalized.

“As a daughter, sister, student and friend I have never felt more threatened,” she said. “If you would have asked me a couple of weeks ago, I would have told you I felt sad and scared. But not now. No, I am furious.”

Larrondo said she’s furious because since the start of the year, a school has been “shot up” every four days on average.

“Those who died in Parkland on Feb. 14 should not die in vain and they will not die in vain,” she said.

Sofia Larrondo, a Bellevue High School junior, speaks at Bellevue High School’s National School Walkout on March 14. Raechel Dawson/staff photo

Bellevue High School junior Haley Cook, 17, said she believed her generation is the generation of change. And it’s her generation that can make the United States a safe place not only in schools, but in movie theaters, places of worship and concerts, she said.

“We demand common sense gun laws, such as a detailed background check, a wait period before purchasing a gun and a national gun registry,” Cook said. “These measures will not only protect us but they will protect the future generations to come when we put them in place.”

Slatter agrees.

“I would like to say that I’m sorry as adults we haven’t been able to make movement on this and that it takes young people’s voices,” she said. “But I feel so inspired by their ability to create a courageous space for remembrance for solidarity, for hope and for determination and that this would never happen again.”

Students at Bellevue College, Interlake High School, Sammamish High School and Newport High School held similar school walkouts on Wednesday. Bellevue middle schools, such as Highland and Chinook also participated.

“I had a friend who went to school in Parkland,” Raia Karmali, a junior at Newport High School said. “This shooting hit too close to home, and since we’ve been talking about it so much, I’ve developed a fear of guns and going to school, which is not what my right to education should entail.”

Evelyn Kim, a senior at Newport High School, said they took it a step further and introduced a discussion component to the walkouts. The ultimate goal, she said, was to stand in solidarity with the victims of gun violence but also promote discussion about the topic of school safety among students of all different opinions and political stances.

Jahnvi Madan, a Newport High School student walkout organizer, said she decided to walkout to “force politicians to act now.”

“I really feel that if thousands of students all disrupt school at the same time, people will pay attention,” she said. “I keep thinking about how any given day could be the day a school shooting happens at my school, and it’s scary and unacceptable.”

Haley Cook, a Bellevue High School junior, speaks at Bellevue High School’s National School Walkout on March 14. Raechel Dawson/staff photo

Lisa Reardon, a Bellevue resident who is the parent of two small girls, said she decided to participate in Sammamish High School’s school walkout.

“These kids make me so proud to live here and raise my babies here,” Reardon said, noting she is a South African immigrant.

She said it was especially heartwarming when one of the students read a speech she had written in which she says, “when your leaders act like children and your children act like leaders, that’s when you know change is coming.”

The National School Walkouts were initially called upon by the Women’s March Youth Empower group. The walkouts were intended to last for 17 minutes at 10 a.m., a minute honoring each victim of the Parkland school shooting.

To learn more about the walkouts, visit www.actionnetwork.org.