Story by Natalie Pate and Abby Luschei | Read the original at www.StatesmanJournal.com
More than 3,000 people — three times the anticipated crowd — marched from Oregon’s Capitol into the streets of downtown Salem Saturday morning, demanding stricter gun laws.
“Hey, hey, ho, ho — the NRA has got to go,” participants chanted. “No more silence; end gun violence.”
More than 840 March For Our Lives rallies were held across the United States and other countries, including marches in Portland and Corvallis. The demonstrations happened less than two weeks after the national school walkouts on March 14.
And Salem was a major hub for Oregonians to join.
“There cannot be two sides to our safety in school, where we should be learning, growing and making friends — not learning how to duck and cover,” Allison Hmura, a South Salem High School student and one of the event organizers, said in her speech.
The walkouts and marches were prompted by the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead. Students also plan to march on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine massacre, where 15 people died at Columbine High School in Colorado.
Participants called for lawmakers to ban assault weapons and increase background checks.
“I want to feel safe in school,” Hmura said. “I want my friends, my peers, my teachers to feel safe, and I know I want there to be a change.
“What change do you want to see?”
Makenna Colby, a student’s perspective
Makenna Colby felt empowered by Saturday’s march, seeing thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds coming together to end gun violence.
“It’s really powerful,” said the 18-year-old student from North Salem High School.
There were a lot of reasons Colby decided to participate in Salem’s March for Our Lives event.
“I’m tired of seeing this stuff happen and wondering if I’m going to be next,” she said. “My mom’s a teacher — will she be next? My sister?”
Colby has participated in a handful of rallies before, but is looking for other ways to take action on a day-to-day basis. She registered to vote last year and will be voting for the first time this May.
Participants of the march were encouraged to vote, with a booth set up at the base of the Capitol steps to register anyone interested. But since the current movement to end gun violence is primarily led by young people, not everyone is able to.
“We can’t vote, so we don’t generally have a voice,” Colby said, speaking about many of her fellow students. “Our politicians haven’t done a lot.”
To those who oppose the march, Colby has one question, “Why would you oppose this?”
“We’re not trying to take away your second amendment rights,” she said. “We’re just trying to make kids safer.”
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Trina Hmura, a parent’s support
Trina Hmura decided to march because she wants students and teachers to be safe in school.
“Guns are a privilege, they are not a right,” she said. “They shouldn’t end up in the hands of children.”
Mass shootings are unique to America, Hmura said. Other countries have figured out a way to overcome them.
About 1,300 children are killed by guns every year in the United States, an estimate described by the Center for Disease Control as “conservative.” That’s nearly 7,000 children under the age of 17 killed since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012.
Hmura wants people to listen to the children who organized marches. “I hope people listen to what they are asking for,” she said.
Mindy Merritt, an educator’s take
Arming teachers with guns isn’t a viable solution to gun violence in the United States — not to Mindy Merritt, president of the Salem-Keizer Education Association.
“Right now, our current system can’t afford paper and pencils for students to learn,” she said, adding she thinks the idea of arming teachers is both philosophically and financially flawed.
“How could we guarantee an educator won’t make a decision that will haunt them for the rest of their lives and the students’?” she asked. “It’s putting a Band-Aid on a cast.”
Instead of arming teachers, Merritt proposes stricter gun control laws and more resources allocated for mental health treatment of students and families.
Merritt said educators were not able to participate in the national school walkouts on March 14, but could openly participate in the March 24 march because it was not on contracted time.
“The time is now to act,” Merritt said. “We have to demand the schools our kids deserve.”
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Dennis Jones, voicing opposition
Dennis Jones from Silverton stood in the crowd gathered at the Capitol Saturday.
He marched next to the protestors, holding an American flag. His handgun was strapped to his hip.
“I come to every rally that affects my second amendment right,” he said.
Jones said he open-carries every day and that he teaches his boys to “properly handle guns.”
Jones was one of about a dozen individuals who came to oppose the rally.
One group of four men walked on the opposite side of the protestors on Court Street, carrying guns and signs that said, “We have a right to protect our school.”
Levi Herrera-Lopez, a community outlook
Levi Herrera-Lopez, executive director of Mano a Mano in Salem, said politicians need to know this isn’t one group’s issue — it’s a community issue.
Herrera-Lopez spoke at the March for Our Lives rally. He had a message for the youth in the crowd: “Politicians who oppose you only fear losing their position of power.”
He hopes this sends a message, but said marches aren’t enough.
“We need follow through,” he said after his speech. “Go register and vote, support candidates with real family values.”
Herrera-Lopez said that as a nation, the fact that children needed to organize this march should be upsetting.
“It’s a failure, the youth are saying we haven’t kept them safe,” he said.
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Paul Evans, a lawmaker calls out NRA
State Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, believes Americans’ rights come with responsibilities.
Evans spoke at the March for Our Lives rally as a representative, a veteran and a Chemeketa Community College professor.
In his speech, Evans said people should be able to be at places of worship, in classrooms and public spaces without the fear of being shot.
He addressed the National Rifle Association and Oregon Firearm Federation, which he said have been manipulating law-abiding gun owners and influencing legislation through fear.
He told the crowd, “I am here to tell them that their day is done.”