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On Columbine Anniversary, More Calls For Gun Control

Walkouts Happening Across The United States To Protest Violence In Schools

students marching for gun control
Students in Milwaukee and across the United States left school Friday as part of a National School Walkout to demand action on gun control. Ximena Conde/WPR

Students and teachers across Wisconsin and the United States left school Friday as part of a National School Walkout to demand action on gun control.

The walkout to protest violence in schools coincided with the anniversary of the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in 1999. Two high school students killed 12 students and one teacher before killing themselves.

More than 2,700 walkouts were registered across the U.S., with around 30 registered in Wisconsin as of Friday morning, according to the National School Walkout registration website.

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Shorewood High School and Rufus King International High School students participated in a walkout Friday, April 20 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A WPR reporter counted about 100 students had gathered at the end of Lincoln Memorial Drive by lakefront. Ximena Conde/WPR.

In Milwaukee, suburban and urban students linked up to make their demands.

There, organizers said that although their experiences with gun violence may be different, they all feel the same negative impact of it.

Katie Eder, a senior at Shorewood High School, is one of the students that helped organize the 50 Miles More march to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s hometown of Janesville at the end of March. She helped rally classmates in Milwaukee.

“The truth is the vast majority of gun deaths in America happen every day on street corners and shopping malls and on playgrounds,” Eder told a crowd of about 200 students Friday. “I am here to say that while students at Shorewood High School are not impacted in the same way that students at Rufus King are, we are dedicated to putting a stop to these senseless deaths.”

Tatiana Washington, a junior at Rufus King International High School in Milwaukee, helped rally students from her school.

We are uniting together to show that gun violence has no district lines. Today we come together despite where we live and go to school to show that we have had enough,” said Washington.

Eder said although roughly 200 students showed up — a much smaller crowd than the March for Our Lives rally — the reality is that the issue of gun control is still important to students.

“So we’re going to continue to walk out and raise our voices no matter, you know, who’s standing with us,” Eder said. “Someone said it during the rally today. Even if we’re standing alone, we’re going to continue to stand up and we’re going to continue to speak for what we believe in.”

Eder and Washington led their group to UW-Milwaukee for a day of workshops discussing race, privilege and uniting the suburban and urban communities in the region.

At the state Capitol in Madison, teachers and students called for politicians to take up what they called common sense gun reform, including universal background checks with gun purchases, a ban on bump stocks, and more.

Wearing bright orange, participants walked to the state Capitol from Madison East High School, planning to spend the day meeting with legislators and lobbying for gun reform.

Steve Somerson, a teacher at East High School, called Friday a day of action, and said even though the Legislature isn’t in session, it’s crucial that they make their voices heard.

The walkouts and marches Friday follow the March For Our Lives earlier in April, and a walkout in March that called for tougher gun safety regulations and included 17 minutes of silence to honor the 17 people killed in the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida in February.

Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation offering $100 million in grants to schools for safety infrastructure.

Somerson said that his colleagues were out to amplify the momentum of student-led activism for gun reform.

“You can put money into having doors locked behind you in your classroom,” Somerson said. “You can do something for the infrastructure of our schools, but the mindset has to change. We need gun reform. We have a problem here in the United States with guns.”

He warned if legislators don’t take up common sense gun reform, the students and teachers are going to vote them out of office.

Peggy Garcia Boettger, an orchestra teacher at East High School, said at a press conference that she remembers teaching before Columbine and how everything changed after. Now, there are lock doors and active shooter drills.

“And in all this time in all these 19 years, what have our lawmakers done for us to help us to protect our children?” Garcia Boettger said. “Less than nothing. They’ve allowed looser gun laws. They’ve let the assault rifle ban expire. And if I saw if our lawmakers are not going to help us, we need new lawmakers and it’s time to vote them out.”

After the press conference, students and teachers held a “die-in,” standing in a circle and reading the names and dates of every school shooting since Columbine.

Editor’s Note: This story was last updated at 1:26 p.m. Friday, April 20, 2018. WPR’s Ximena Conde, Marylee Williams, Jenny Peek and Andrea Anderson contributed to this report.