On February 14, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz calmly walked into Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and used his legally purchased semi-automatic weapon to kill 17 people. On Wednesday, March 14, exactly a month after the horrifying event, thousands of Americans students paid tribute to the innocent lives lost with an unprecedented nationwide walkout.
At 10:00 a.m. local time, school kids from Maine to Hawaii left their classrooms for precisely 17 minutes — one for each of the 17 victims. Some held billboards demanding change in gun laws and listened to impassioned speeches from fellow students. Others read the names of each victim or stood quietly around a group of empty chairs. Students at Granada Hills Charter High School in Los Angeles County laid down on the football field to spell out “#ENOUGH.” At Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, which experienced a similar shooting in 1999, the students stayed out for a full 30 minutes – 17 to honor the Parkland victims and 13 in tribute to the 12 students and one teacher killed at their school. Standing side by side in silence, they released red, white, and blue balloons in memory of all the victims.
In Washington D.C., thousands of students and adults gathered near the White House with signs that read "Books Not Bullets" and "Fire Politicians, Not Guns." At 10 a.m. sharp, they turned their backs to the White House and sat in silence for 17 minutes. Parkland students, who are planning a “March For Our Lives” rally at the nation’s capital on March 24, marked the occasion by placing hundreds of pinwheels around the school campus. While the students had initially planned to stay away from classrooms for just 17 minutes, seeing the crowds around the country encouraged many to continue rallying for gun control off campus long after.
"By more than one school doing this, it shows politicians and lawmakers that we want change to happen," senior Audrey Diaz said. "And the next generation is prepared to make that happen."
In addition to honoring the victims, participants of the walkout, which was organized by the Women’s March youth branch, also hope to convince US lawmakers to introduce stricter gun laws. Specifically, they want Congress to ban assault weapons, require comprehensive background checks for gun sales, and enact legislation that would allow officials to disarm people who show signs of violent or unstable behavior.
Whether such sweeping gun laws will be passed on a national level remains to be seen. However, the earnest pleas from the Parkland students have already led to reform in Florida. On March 9, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. Among other things, it raises the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21, gives officials authority to take away weapons from anyone deemed to be mentally disturbed, and provides funding to increase security in schools.