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Students Walkout Across The Country To Protest Violence In Schools


Thousands of students across the country left class today in protest of gun violence in schools. It's the National School Walkout, and it coincides with the 19th anniversary of the shootings at Columbine High School. NPR's Brakkton Booker was out with students today in Washington.

BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: A sea of young people is gathered in Lafayette Square directly in front of the White House. They're holding signs that read, now is the time, and, arms are for hugging. The students are here to honor those killed by gun violence.


LAURA KIRK: All right, so we're going to start off our event today with 19 minutes of silence.

BOOKER: Nineteen minutes - that's one minute for every year that's passed since Columbine, says Laura Kirk. She's 17 and is a student at West Springfield High School in Virginia. Like many here, she wasn't even born when the Columbine shooting took place in 1999, and she says she's never known a world without mass shootings.

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KIRK: This is a national public health crisis. This is an epidemic, and we are here to say that enough is enough.

BOOKER: This is just one of 2,600 registered events for students today. The National School Walkout is a call to action by students, some too young to vote. They're urging lawmakers to enact stricter gun laws.

After leaving the park, student activists make the nearly 2-mile walk down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the U.S. Capitol. At a makeshift podium on the Capitol's West Lawn, one speaker after another reads letters written to lawmakers, calling for action. There are survivors here too, like Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Amy Luo. She lived through the shooting in Parkland, Fla., in February where 17 people died.


AMY LUO: I'm one of the few hundred lucky students who made it out. I wish I could stand here and tell you that I'm doing OK, but I'm not.

BOOKER: Luo says what many here expressed - that they have lived too long in fear of guns in their everyday lives.


LUO: We are sick and tired of walking to a classroom, concert venue, mall or even just walking home from work with the fear of staring down the barrel of a gun. I am sick and tired of the people in power who are sitting comfortably, not knowing what it's like to hide in classrooms and closets, praying for the gunman not to shoot through.

BOOKER: Those words ring true for Columbine survivor Salli Garrigan. She encouraged young activists to never stop lifting their voices to enact change, something Garrigan wishes she would have done when she was young.

SALLI GARRIGAN: I used to just shrug - like, another one, oh, another one. And then finally I was like, no, this is ridiculous. I now have children. I don't want to be a survivor that's helping my survivor child. And it needs to be changed.

BOOKER: Organizers say movements like today's National School Walkout are just the beginning. They want to tighten gun laws, like raising the minimum age to buy a firearm to 21, banning bump stocks and ensuring every state has universal background checks. Seventeen-year-old Ian Berlin, one of the organizers, had a parting message for lawmakers.


IAN BERLIN: So to the politicians, I say you've had 19 years, and now you have until November. If you don't act...


BERLIN: If you don't act, we will. And we will vote you out.


BERLIN: Thank you.

BOOKER: But a new NPR/PBS Marist Poll shows momentum may be slowing. Less than half of registered voters say gun policy will be a major factor in deciding whom they vote for. That number is down 13 points from February. Brakkton Booker, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.