Logan High School junior Joshua Velazquez said the message was clear. Students walked out of school on Wednesday morning to demand that their federal and state representatives take responsibility for their inaction on gun reform.
“Today we walk out of school but tomorrow we walk into the polls,” Velazquez said, his voice growing hoarse as he shouted to at least 250 students who left class to join the protest in front of the high school, as the American flag flew overhead.
He said the 10 a.m. nationwide school walkout was just the start of a long battle to end the gun violence epidemic — an epidemic that his generation expects to end.
“Do not let your involvement end here; continue to stand up and speak out,” Velazquez said. “We are fighting an uphill battle that will only be won once we disarm hate.”
Amelia Strange, also a Logan High junior, continued Velazquez’s fiery delivery as she recalled her first memories of hearing about gun violence. First, it was Sandy Hook. She said she was 11 when the news came over the radio that 20 children and seven adults were killed at an elementary school.
“I told myself it would never happen again, and then it did," Strange said.
Her second memory was the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, she said. She heard the stories of innocent people trapped in a bathroom as a man with a gun killed nearly 50 people.
“I told myself it would never happen again,” Strange repeated. “And then it did.”
Then, a month ago to the day, a young man killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“They were in sixth grade just like us when the news broke of Sandy Hook; they too never thought this could never happen to them, but it did,” Strange said. “People our age who shared our hopes and dreams — they were killed when a boy was able to own an AR-15 despite being a reported threat to himself and others.”
Of the Sandy Hook victims, Strange said their fear is our fear. Of the Orlando victims, Strange said their terror is our terror. Of the Parkland victims, Strange said their heartbreak is our heartbreak. She said a common thread for these mass shootings is people with untreated mental illness having easy, legal access to guns.
“I don’t want to take away all of your guns, I don’t want to take away your constitutional rights, but I refuse to be the generation of mass shootings,” Strange said.
After her speech, Strange said she would like to see an assault rifle ban and stricter background checks for all gun purchases. By November of 2020, she said a majority of her peers will be able to vote. They plan to use that vote to kick out elected officials who don’t stand up for their lives.
“It’s time for us to stand up and make a difference,” Strange said.
The mood was somber as Logan High senior Piper Christian read out the names of the 17 Parkland shooting victims, followed by several minutes of silence at the end of the 17-minute walkout. Walkout organizers handed out signs with the words, “Never Again,” “Protect kids, not guns” and “Enough is Enough.”
Danny Beus, chairman of the Cache Democrats, carried his infant in his arms as he watched the Logan High walkout. He said he wants to know his children will be safe when they are ready to attend public school — and the high school students of today are going to be instrumental in making that happen.
“I think they’re fired up; I think they are,” Beus said. “I think we’ll see a lot of voter registration among young people. Good things are going to happen.”
That optimism was shared by Logan resident Sandra Charlson, who came out to witness the walkout with Amy Hopkins, a parent of a Logan High student.
“This generation, I think these guys have the energy to finally do something,” Charlson said. “This is a critical year with elections coming up and I think they understand that the vote counts and they’re going to do what they can to boot people out of office who won’t do anything.”
Charlson said it’s a shame that her generation hasn’t been able to get anything done on gun reform. Hopkins said she blames the National Rifle Association for that lack of action.
“Too powerful,” Hopkins said of the NRA. “Too much money going into politicians’ pockets.”
Just before the clock struck 10 a.m., Logan High Principal Ken Auld said Logan City School District would take a neutral position on the walkout. If a student left class, it would be recorded as an unexcused absence. The school’s administrative assistant said 20 parents had called in to excuse their students before the protest.
In conversations with students days before the walkout, Auld said he told them that the school was not promoting the protest, but they would not prevent students from protesting.
“Students have the right to protest and to do it nonviolently, and that’s their right, and so we’re not going to take their right away, but we can’t endorse that as a school,” he said.
Just before students headed back to class, Velazquez encouraged students to attend two upcoming protest events: “March for our Lives” at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 24, at the Historic Cache County Courthouse, and another school walkout April 20.