Catholic Students Join Florida School Walkouts for Gun Reform

By Roewe, Brian | National Catholic Reporter, March 9, 2018 | Go to article overview

Catholic Students Join Florida School Walkouts for Gun Reform


Roewe, Brian, National Catholic Reporter


Alexa Hui was almost in tears by the sight on her school's football field.

About 1,000 students, roughly half the population at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, had gathered in silence in a circle around noon Feb. 21. It was a part solidarity walkout, part prayer service for the 14 students and three school officials who were killed by a gunman a week earlier at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, less than 20 miles up the road.

The proximity of the schools, which face each other on the athletic field and occasionally partner for events, meant the latest mass shooting tragedy in America struck too close for many of the students. Hui, 18, had friends at Stoneman Douglas; thankfully, she said, none were injured. But her sister and another friend both knew a student who died.

On the field, the Aquinas students recited the names of the 17 victims, praying for each as well as those killed in past mass shootings. They said an Our Father and a Hail Mary, and offered prayers for their community to heal, for people with mental illness, for others who feel alone, and for the ability to recognize and respond to warning signs before alarms go off.

They also prayed that this time will be different.

"I really, truly believe that this is our generation and that we can control what happens. And if we care about this, and we want to turn this into something, we can," Hui, the student body president, told her classmates at the service.

"As a Catholic school we have that extra responsibility, almost, to stand up for all life and protect all life," she told NCR.

The days since the Feb. 14 shooting have witnessed high school students across Florida headed by survivors from Stoneman Douglas--where former student Nikolas Cruz gunned down-classmates and school officials with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle--not only raise the issue of gun reform once more on the national consciousness but take an active and visible lead in demanding real action, through social media, on television and in old-fashioned face-to-face interactions.

The walkout at St. Thomas Aquinas was among more than a dozen held across Florida Feb. 21, with thousands of students exiting their classrooms in the nation's latest push for gun reform. They carried posters stating "We Want to Feel Safe!" and "Stop Gun Violence" and shouted chants of "Never Again!"

Other students traveled to Tallahassee, the state capital, and to Washington, D.C., to meet with legislators--reports indicated they planned to meet with as many as 70 in the Florida Capitol alone--not just to be heard but to demand action.

"We're not here to be patted on the back. We're not here to be told we're great, that we're doing so much. Because we know what we're doing and we're doing it for a reason," Delaney Tarr, a Stoneman Douglas senior who survived the shooting, said in a speech at the Florida statehouse. "We're doing it so that our legislators, so that our lawmakers will make a change, so that they will take us seriously, so that they will not dismiss us any longer, so they won't reschedule, so they won't push us into another room as they dance around our questions.

"Because we came here prepared and we're going to come to every single meeting with every single legislator prepared. We know what we want: We want gun reform, we want common sense gun laws. We want stronger mental health checks and background checks to work in conjunction. We want a better age limit. We want privatized selling to be completely reformed so you can't just walk into a building with $130 and walk out with an AR-15. We want change and we know how to get this change," she said.

At Champagnat Catholic School, in Hialeah. north of Miami, students, supported by faculty and staff, left their classrooms and marched to city hall to deliver a letter to their mayor that called for him to take a stand against gun violence and offered the school's support in making a change. …

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