By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Armed with a megaphone and youthful optimism, Alyson Baker and Luther Shinew climbed atop the Bowling Green High School spirit rock this morning to take on the NRA and unresponsive politicians.
They watched as an estimated 300 students streamed out of the high school and middle school to stand by them in protesting gun violence in schools.
“Every student has the right to go to school and come home at the end of the day,” Baker, a BGHS senior, said to her fellow students. And the same goes for their parents, Baker said, shouting out to the 100 or so citizen supporters gathered on the sidewalk in front of the school.
“These kids are about to change the world,” she said.
This morning’s walkout at BGHS lasted 17 minutes – one minute for each of the students and teachers killed one month ago in the Parkland school shootings.
“I am doing this because I think it’s time for a change,” Shinew, a BGHS senior, said. “It’s been 20 years since Columbine” yet gun laws are more lenient now than two decades ago.
“We need to stop killing our children,” Shinew said.
Baker and Shinew thought they might get 30 to 50 kids to join them in the walkout. They were stunned by the hundreds that came not only from the high school, but also the middle school.
“I was in shock. I was in awe,” Baker said. “It makes me so happy to know that this many people have our backs. I was filled with hope.”
Baker decided to organize the walkout when she saw footage of the Parkland shootings. At that point she wasn’t sure if the district would allow the show of protest.
“Whether there were going to be repercussions or not, I’m doing it,” she said.
Once the walkout was announced, the organizers received kudos and criticisms on Facebook for their efforts. Baker said she disregarded the naysayers.
“We ignored them. It motivated me more,” she said.
Unlike some other school districts, Bowling Green officials supported the rights of the students to hold a walkout.
“It’s about their First Amendment rights,” high school principal Jeff Dever said as he stood outside the school before the walkout.
Superintendent Francis Scruci attended, but did not speak. “I want this to be student-led,” he said.
The Bowling Green Police Division had a heavy presence during the walkout, and made citizen supporters stand out on the sidewalk along Poe Road. The citizens stood quietly, except for occasional shouts of support for the students.
“I’m worried about our children,” said Gloria Enriquez Pizana, who worked as a substitute teacher last year. “I’m so proud of our kids.”
The citizens also stood in the cold to show support for gun law changes.
“It’s just irrational that we have so many guns in this country,” Drew Hanna said. “We do not need assault rifles. If we had a ban on assault rifles, we’d have 17 more kids.”
“We can easily be safe and protected with far less guns,” Hanna said. “Each day hundreds of people are being slaughtered by guns.”
Deb Helmbold and Ron Bolander agreed.
“We’re here to protest the guns in schools. We would like to see regulations,” such as age limits, three-day waiting periods and restrictions on semi-automatic weapons, Helmbold said.
And they wanted the students to see that their community stands with them.
“I want the kids to come out and see a thousand people out here,” Helmbold said. “I want them to know the adults in this community are behind them.”
Jim Litwin braved the cold for the same reason.
“I’m here to support an inspiring group of young people. I believe they are doing the right thing, and the schools are doing the right thing by supporting them,” Litwin said.
When the walkout was over, Shinew and Baker reflected on their next steps.
“We need to vote. This was a great day, but none of it matters unless we vote,” Shinew said. “We can’t become the elected officials just yet, but we can influence them.”
The gun violence issue may be the topic that finally motivates American youth, Shinew said.
“My generation didn’t care,” he said, noting the “abysmal” voting records of Americans. “I think this may be one of the things that may galvanize us.”
Shinew said his grandfather was a member of the NRA, which started as a group representing hunters. “Corporations have taken it over,” he said.
“We are advocating for gun control,” Shinew said. But the real issue – one that everyone can rally against – is gun violence. “It’s about stopping the threat of gun violence.”
Both seniors said the topic of gun violence comes up frequently among students. “This is all happening without the teachers provoking it,” Baker said.
Though the police presence at schools is bumped up, that doesn’t necessarily make kids feel safe, Baker said.
“You know what would really make me feel safe? A ban on assault rifles,” she said.
Meanwhile, the media coverage of mass shootings has slowed due to the frequency of the shootings, Shinew said.
“I think our nation has become numb to it,” Baker said.
But no more. “This is the time,” Shinew said.