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'This is our civic duty': Teens flood D.C. to march with urgent message on gun control

WASHINGTON – Hundreds of thousands of people from across the country – most of them young – flooded the streets of the nation's capital Saturday to tell the adults who run the country that it is time to get serious about gun control.

And to hear some of the 100 or so teens from metro Buffalo who attended D.C.'s March for Our Lives, politicians couldn't help but get the message.

"Before today, I wasn't sure what our impact would be," said Caleb Valeri, an 18-year-old senior at Clarence High School. "But after seeing this, I feel pretty confident something is going to change."

Emma Stanczyk, a 14-year-old freshman at the Park School of Buffalo, agreed.

"This is certainly the start of a movement," said Stanczyk, who stood near the stage where 20 young people, including teens from the Florida high school where 17 people were murdered on Valentine's Day, delivered passionate speeches in favor of stricter gun laws.

For Buffalo youth, the toll of everyday gun violence is all too real

March for Our Lives rally draws 3,000 in Buffalo and two students from Parkland

The message came not just from the stage near near the Capital, but also from the massive crowd that dense-packed at least eight blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue and several side streets on this sunny but chilly spring day.

While there was no official crowd count by afternoon, it looked like one of the largest to gather in the nation's capital in the past three decades: a racially diverse mass of people from every corner of the country, crowded shoulder to shoulder and barely able to move.

Many in the crowd held up hand-made signs with messages such as "Gun control is a pro-life message" and "I don't want to die in my algebra 2."

Together the crowd grooved to music Arianna Grande and Miley Cyrus, who performed onstage, and cheered speeches from young people whose lives had been changed by gun violence.

"The truth is, I am not here for me," said Sam Fuentes, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who was wounded in the Parkland attack. "I am here for you – so you don't have to fear of getting shot in your own classroom."

Speaker after speaker delivered similar messages, the youngest being 9-year-old Yolanda King, a granddaughter of Martin Luther King Jr., who was shot to death 50 years ago next month.

“I have a dream that enough is enough, and that this should be a gun-free world,” Yolanda said.

The Parkland students organized the march with funding from left-leaning celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, and although it was a teen-planned event thrown together less than six weeks after the Florida shooting, it went off with few glitches.

There was the problem of overcrowding that caused the shutdown of a subway station, and there some pushing and shoving between adult protesters and a video crew from InfoWars, the far-right conspiracy theory website that incorrectly accused Parkland survivors of being "crisis actors" and not teens who had seen their friends gunned down.

Several protesters said they came to Washington out of fear that they or their loved ones could someday fall victim to gun violence.

"It shouldn't be so easy for an 18-year-old to go to a gun store and buy a gun," said Ashanti Reese, a 15-year-old freshman at Buffalo's Pathways Academy. She attended the rally with a group of her schoolmates. "People die because of that."

Dakari Mack, a 17-year-old sophomore at Pathways, said shootings are common both around his school and his neighborhood. One day, he fears, what happened in Parkland could happen in Buffalo.

"It's always playing in my head," he said of the possibility of a mass shooting at his school. "I'm down here today because I want to take guns off the streets."

Several of the teens from the Buffalo area mentioned specific gun control measures that they think would help, such as a ban on assault weapons, a higher legal age for gun purchases and tighter background checks

"If you look at the research, it's obvious that gun control correlates with less violence," said Daltin Danser, a 14-year-old freshman at the Park School.

Stanczyk echoed Danser's call for tougher gun control measures – which, she said, would be far more effective than arming teachers, as the National Rifle Association suggests.

"As it is, there's barely enough money for schools to get basic educational materials," said Stanczyk. "Money for education should come before arming teachers."

Amid gunfire at Florida high school, armed officer sought cover

Stanczyk was by no means alone in coming to Washington filled with outrage.

Madeline Gee, a 17-year-old senior at City Honors School, carried a hand-made sign that said: "Planned Parenthood isn't profiting off the deaths of children. The NRA is."

"It's ridiculous that we haven't passed gun control measures, especially after the Sandy Hook shooting, where 6-year-olds were killed," she said, referring to the 2012 mass murder of 26 people – 20 of them children – at a Connecticut elementary school.

That's just how Andy Kowalczyk feels, too.

"I think we'll send a message that legislators need to hear," said Kowalczyk, 17, a senior at Clarence High School. "We're going to show that you can have an impact no matter what your age is."

Many protesters carried signs attacking either the Republican Congress or President Trump for inaction on gun control.

Trump was at his Florida estate for the weekend, but a spokesman for the president, Lindsay Walters, issued a statement saying: “We applaud the many courageous young Americans exercising their First Amendment rights today ... Keeping our children safe is a top priority of the President’s.”

Several demonstrators said, though, that the key to winning stronger gun control measures would be ousting pro-gun politicians like Trump and replacing them with leaders who aren't beholden to the NRA.

"The fight begins today," said Cameron Kasky, one of the leaders among the Parkland students, at the end of the rally. "And it won't end until we get what we need."

So far, there has been a lot of talk about gun control, but little action, said Akilesh Ramakrishna, a junior at Clarence High.

He said he came to Washington to try to force change.

"This is what being an American is all about," said Ramakrishna, 16. "This is our civic duty."

'Sorry 4 the inconvenience we are trying to change the world' and other signs at the March For Our Lives rally in Buffalo

 

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