“If we want a change, we need to show that we mean it. Nothing has been changed since Columbine.”
Sophomore Jace Comings’ face was serious last Wednesday as he spoke about the fears his Oberlin High School classmates face.
He was among the roughly 40 students who stood a 17-minute silent watch outside Oberlin High School — one minute for each life snuffed out on Valentine’s Day by a Florida gunman.
They walked out of class as part of a movement spurred by the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
Joining the event were several adult residents bearing handmade signs reading, “We stand with the students” and “Don’t arm teachers.”
Oberlin police also stood by to ensure student safety.
Comings briefly spoke to the crowd, saying students were there to protest the availability of assault-style weapons to the public.
“If America wants a future, this stops now because we’re killing off our future one American at a time,” he told us later. “It shouldn’t be a normal thing for kids to be out dying just to get an education.”
Several students said they’ve had it with “thoughts and prayers” offered every time there’s a mass shooting.
“I feel like the most horrifying thing in our country today is how easily we accept these events. They change every single person in our country, whether they know it or not,” said sophomore Ginger Deppman.
Like Comings, she is frustrated that change has to come from students instead of adults when it comes to rampant gun violence in America.
But it’s students who have been “the spearhead of change” throughout the country’s history, said Oberlin resident Janet Garrett, who is running for the U.S. House of Representatives in Ohio’s 4th District. She told students outside OHS that she is proud of their activism.
“Obviously, civil disobedience isn’t comfortable,” principal William Baylis told his students.
He called on them to write letters to Ohio’s senators with a simple message: Enough is enough.
Baylis originally told the News-Tribune that students who walked out would face detention or suspension. That stance changed and students were allowed to demonstrate not only outside but also in the OHS gymnasium.
Women’s March Youth Empower called for walkouts at schools all across America and said there were more than 2,500 planned for March 14.
That group promoted walkouts as a way to pressure Congress for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; expanded background checks on all gun sales; passage of the federal restraining order law that would allow law enforcement to remove guns from a person’s possession if they pose a threat to themselves or others; and an act to demilitarize police.
“We view this work as part of an ongoing and decades-long movement for gun violence prevention in honor of all victims of gun violence — from James Brady to Trayvon Martin to the 17 people killed in Parkland,” the Youth Empower website said.
Not all demonstrations that day took the shape of a walkout.
Some districts encouraged students to wear orange, a color associated with gun violence prevention efforts. Others, such as the Oberlin City Schools, prompted students to wear red and silver, the colors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz, 19, used an AR-15-style rifle in his attack, leading to renewed calls for common sense gun control legislation.
Cruz has been indicted on 17 counts of first-degree premeditated murder and first-degree attempted murder. His lawyers have asked for his not-guilty plea to be withdrawn, saying they want to avoid a death penalty verdict — they ask instead for 34 consecutive life sentences without parole.
Other sweeping student demonstrations are being planned in the U.S.
March for Our Lives is organized by students who survived the Parkland tragedy. It will be held in Washington, D.C., and other locations nationwide on Saturday, March 24.
The National High School Walkout is planned for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado. It will ask students to leave classes at 10 a.m. and not return that day.
OHS sophomore Sascha Brewer said students plan to continue making their voices heard through another demonstration on April 20.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.