Dozens of Great Neck North High students walked out of school on a rainy Thursday afternoon to push for more gun control measures, young people to take action and speak about the toll gun violence has taken.
Chloe Heiden and Shira Geula, the two student organizers of the event, said the school had hosted a schoolwide walkout in March 14, but that it was more of a “mourning period” for the students who died in Parkland.
Heiden said this particular demonstration now was meant to be a more political call to action that would send a message of “unified hope” to the victims of gun violence seeking stronger legislation to stop it.
“What is extremely important is getting to the root of this problem, and the root of gun violence in our schools and in our communities is simply lacking legislation and gun laws in our government,” Heiden, a sophomore at Great Neck North, said.
“It feels like it’s every week and it’s devastating,” Heiden added, “because we feel we can be targeted next.”
The event featured a number of speakers, including students, fellow gun control advocates, family members of victims shot to death, including Paul Guttenberg, whose niece Jamie – a friend of some Great Neck North students – was shot and killed at Parkland.
Guttenberg, who came out to encourage young people to become civically active, said he and his family were proud and thankful of the students attending and the school for allowing them to rally.
“They are the change, they are the difference and if we’re going to create new laws and improve gun safety, it has to be through the youth movement,” Guttenberg said.
Avalon Fenster, founder and lead organizer of March for Our Lives Long Island, said she’s heard many adults and critics say the momentum for the complicated issue of gun violence wouldn’t last.
But turnout at events like this shows people still care and want to take action, Fenster said, even in a state like New York which has stronger gun laws than many others.
“…I think regardless of how safe our laws are due to the New York State SAFE Act, we still need to be fighting the fight not only for us here in New York, but for those in other states and other places who may not have their voices heard the way we have our voices heard,” Fenster said.
North Hempstead Town Councilwoman Anna Kaplan and Brad Schwartz, two candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican state Sen. Elaine Phillips of District 7 and turn the senate Democratic, also attended the event.
Schwartz, who said he came to stand in solidarity with the students on the issue of gun violence, recalled his school life as one far different than today.
“Back when I was a teenager we didn’t have security checkpoints, we didn’t have bulletproof glass, we didn’t have active shooter drills,” Schwartz said, “and that’s a sense of security that you and all your families deserve too.”
Schwartz also encouraged students to stay active beyond the issue of guns.
“Your movement is not limited to a single issue,” Schwartz said. “Your power, your voices, your passion, are the change. You are the future of America and don’t forget that.”
Kaplan, who said as an elected official she came to listen and “take your voice whether it is to town hall or to Albany,” echoed the importance – and power – of voting.
“Just remember, I’ll leave you with one thought: your vote is much more important and much more powerful than any AR-15,” Kaplan said. “Get out there, register, and vote.”
— Janelle Clausen (@JanelleClausen) May 31, 2018