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Clarence students join Florida shooting survivors' call for stricter gun control

Inspired by the students who survived the mass shooting at a Florida high school last week and are demanding more be done to keep high-powered guns out of the reach of killers, about 80 teenagers, mostly students and recent graduates of Clarence High School, gathered in a Clarence park Wednesday to send a message: "Enough is enough."

They said they were tired of hearing about all of the kids being killed in classrooms. They said they were fed up with lockdown drills. They said they had had it with lawmakers' fighting about guns. What they want is to feel safe in their schools and the young people in Sunset Park said the best way to do that is through strict gun control, especially when it comes to assault weapons like AR-15s, the type of weapon used to gun down 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Parkland is a picturesque and affluent suburb not unlike Clarence, said Andy Kowalczyk, a Clarence High School senior. He was among seven students who organized the protest, which took place in the middle of their February break.

"It could happen anywhere. That's the point," he said.

The students chose Sunset Park, at the corner of Wehrle Drive and Harris Hill Road, because it's directly across the street from the local offices of Rep. Chris Collins, a defender of the Second Amendment. Collins last year introduced legislation that would nullify much of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's NY SAFE Act, a sweeping set of gun control measures including a ban on sales of assault weapons in New York stores, Kowalczyk said.

"He wants to make it easier to get an AR-15," Kowalczyk said.

They said they support keeping the NY SAFE Act intact.

Kate Turri, a Clarence student, and her friends, Lucas Cousins and Rileigh Tobolski, who just graduated from Clarence, stayed up until 4 a.m. making their signs for the protest.

"Does my life matter to you" read Turri's sign, written in black and red marker.

She questioned some lawmakers' logic in calling for armed guards in schools.

"We're trying to fight the problem of guns and they want to put more guns in schools," she said.

A spokeswoman for Collins said in a statement about the demonstration that he "realizes that there is no easy answer to this crisis," but that "he is supportive of President Trump’s commitment to ban bump stocks and improve our nation’s background check system to prevent dangerous weapons from getting into the wrong hands."

She also said Collins supported addressing "solutions focused on mental health and other options that prevent individuals like this from having the opportunity to carry out these horrific actions."

The young protesters stood near the intersection holding their signs and chanting. "Not one more!" they yelled. "We vote too," they also said. Some drivers honked in support. "I'll help you with your message," a woman stopped at a light vowed, shaking her fist.

The protest in Clarence took place as other demonstrations were held in Washington, D.C., and in Tallahassee, Fla. The Parkland students are also calling for future protests, including a nationwide student walkout on March 14, the one-month anniversary of the mass shootings that killed their friends and teachers.

The Clarence students said Wednesday they were eager to participate.

Sophia Vorreuter said she plans to be part of the walkout. "I hope to see at least the same amount of people," she said, gesturing to the line of students holding up their signs.

A couple of mothers came to the park Wednesday to keep an eye on their children – and also to show their support.

"I'm extremely proud," said Michele Panzer, whose 17-year-old son, Jacob, was among the protesters in Clarence as well as the larger movement of youth fighting gun violence in their schools.

"No one else is doing anything," she said. "I hope this drowns out the bickering."

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