‘That day changed me for­ever’

Stu­dent sur­vivors of Park­land, Fla., shoot­ing take gun-re­form mes­sage on road, stop­ping in N.M.

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By Robert Nott rnott@sfnewmex­i­can.com

TALBUQUERQUE here were just 20 min­utes left to the school day when he first heard the scream­ing, cry­ing and pray­ing, said Al­fonso Calderon, a stu­dent at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School in Park­land, Fla. He knew right away there was a gun­man on cam­pus.

The gun­shots con­firmed his fears. He and oth­ers hud­dled in a dark­ened closet as the gun­man killed 17 peo­ple and wounded 17 oth­ers dur­ing the Fe­bru­ary mas­sacre.

“That day changed me for­ever,” Calderon told hun­dreds of peo­ple gath­ered for a demon­stra­tion Wednes­day at Roo­sevelt Park in Al­bu­querque. “It hap­pened be­cause a men­tally in­sane 19-year-old was al­lowed to carry an AR-15.”

Calderon is one of about a dozen Park­land stu­dents on a two-month, cross-coun­try bus tour with a goal of ral­ly­ing young vot­ers and con­vinc­ing law­mak­ers to take steps they be­lieve will curb gun vi­o­lence — in­clud­ing a ris­ing num­ber of deadly shoot­ings tar­get­ing schools. The tour, called March For Our Lives: Road to Change, be­gan June 15 in Chicago and is sched­uled to make 500 stops in 20 states.

Be­tween early Jan­uary and late May, there were 30 shoot­ings at U.S. schools and uni­versi-

ties, which killed 40 peo­ple and in­jured 73. That com­pares to nine shoot­ings with 15 deaths in all of 2017 and 15 shoot­ings killing 11 in 2016. The in­creas­ing vi­o­lence has prompted a na­tion­wide dis­cus­sion on how to keep schools safe but also has mo­bi­lized young peo­ple who be­lieve the ef­fort must go be­yond talks on metal de­tec­tors, bul­let­proof win­dows and whether to sta­tion armed guards on cam­puses.

Stu­dents who sur­vived the Park­land shoot­ing — so far the year’s big­gest school mas­sacre — have been at the fore­front of a gun-con­trol move­ment for the past six months, inspiring youth-led school walk­outs and marches na­tion­wide aimed at pres­sur­ing law­mak­ers to pass tougher gun mea­sures. Sis­ter marches and ral­lies in Santa Fe and other New Mex­ico cities, most of them or­ga­nized by stu­dents, drew thou­sands of sup­port­ers this spring.

Teens and adults in the crowd Wednes­day said the youth-led move­ment — driven by a gen­er­a­tion grow­ing weary of lock­downs and ac­tive-shooter drills — has strong mo­men­tum and will not stop any­time soon.

The event in­cluded stu­dent speak­ers from other cities, such as Al­bu­querque, Chicago and New York, who de­scribed feel­ing fear at school and a de­sire to see tougher gun laws en­acted.

Oth­ers spoke about los­ing loved ones to gun vi­o­lence or re­cited po­etry de­cry­ing the high price Amer­i­cans pay for wide ac­cess to firearms.

“We’re the next gen­er­a­tion, and we’re grow­ing into a world that is scary, so we have to use the power we have to make change,” said Naomi Be­navidez, a re­cent grad­u­ate of Atrisco Her­itage Academy in Al­bu­querque.

Mag­gie By­ers, a spokes­woman for the New Mex­ico chap­ter of Moms De­mand Ac­tion For Gun Sense in Amer­ica, said she be­lieves the Park­land stu­dents are mak­ing more in­roads than ac­tivists in the past when it comes to keep­ing the is­sue in the spot­light.

Of­ten af­ter a shoot­ing, she said, “Peo­ple come to­gether, peo­ple get up­set and then peo­ple for­get. But these kids have been great about not let­ting peo­ple for­get.”

The Park­land stu­dents, who be­gan de­mand­ing changes im­me­di­ately af­ter the Feb. 14 at­tack, have met with many politi­cians, in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who ini­tially pledged to sup­port their cause by ask­ing for tougher back­ground checks for peo­ple pur­chas­ing semi-au­to­matic weapons. At that time, Trump also said he backed rais­ing the min­i­mum age to pur­chase a semi­au­to­matic weapon to 21 from 18.

Trump has backed down on the sec­ond pledge, lead­ing some crit­ics to say he is kow­tow­ing to the wishes of the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion, which op­poses any move to limit gun pur­chases.

The Park­land stu­dents also have fierce crit­ics, many who ac­cuse the teens of try­ing to tram­ple Amer­i­cans’ Sec­ond Amend­ment rights. They have been ridiculed by op­po­nents on so­cial me­dia and have faced push­back from politi­cians who sup­port the NRA.

The only sign of con­flict Wednes­day, how­ever, emerged when a de­bate be­came heated be­tween a man with a sidearm and Mar­cel McClin­ton, a 16-year-old ac­tivist from Hous­ton. McClin­ton is a co-founder of Hous­ton-based Or­ange Gen­er­a­tion, a gun re­form ad­vo­cacy group that was or­ga­nized in col­lab­o­ra­tion with stu­dents who sur­vived a mass shoot­ing in May at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas.

The armed man even­tu­ally left the park.

PHO­TOS BY JUAN AN­TO­NIO LABRECHE/FOR THE NEW MEX­I­CAN

Jade Lopez, 13, of Al­bu­querque speaks to gun-rights ac­tivists, some of whom were armed, Wednes­day at Roo­sevelt Park in Al­bu­querque. Lo­cal stu­dents joined sur­vivors of the Park­land, Fla., school shoot­ing at the event, part of the March For Our Lives: Road to Change tour that be­gan in Chicago and is sched­uled to make 500 stops in 20 states.

Emma Gon­za­lez, a for­mer stu­dent at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School in Park­land, Fla., speaks to a young ac­tivist Wednes­day at the event.

A gun-rights ac­tivist fends off at­ten­dees of Wednes­day’s event at Roo­sevelt Park in Al­bu­querque who were at­tempt­ing to take away his sign and re­move him from the event.

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