‘That day changed me forever’
Student survivors of Parkland, Fla., shooting take gun-reform message on road, stopping in N.M.
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.
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.