The students who marched out of their La Jolla High School classrooms, April 20, weren’t even born when the tragic Columbine High School shooting took place in Colorado on April 20, 1999, but the aftermath lingers. On that fateful day, two teens went on a shooting spree, killing 13 people and wounding more than 20 others before turning their guns on themselves and committing suicide.
Marking the 19th anniversary, and reflecting on more recent school shootings that have occurred in their lifetimes, nearly 100 La Jolla students walked out of school at 10 a.m. and over to Fay Avenue at Nautilus Street with signs and chants demanding gun reform. They joined thousands of students nationwide who marched in similar fashion that day.
Protest songs blasted from a speaker including “Stronger” by Kelly Clarkson, “My Shot” from the musical “Hamilton,” and the anti-war anthem “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Along Nautilus Street, students with bullhorns led chants such as “Hey, hey, ho, ho, the NRA has got to go,” and “What do we want? Gun reform! When do we want it? Now!”
Senior Isha Raj-Silverman, who helped organize the event, opined: “The Columbine shooting brought this issue into the national spotlight. But the fact that it has been 19 years since it has been brought to national attention — and nothing has been done about it — is more of a statement than anything.
“Our mission is to say that we, as high-schoolers, do not accept the ‘thoughts and prayers’ that go out to our peers who are supposed to be protected. ‘Thoughts and prayers’ are not going to bring change. But our action and common sense gun reform will make sure fewer students die.”
She said the physical removal of students was also intended to show what it must have been like for the surviving students of other school shootings, who suddenly saw their classrooms with missing classmates.
“That was what is must have been like for the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (which experienced a mass shooting on Feb. 14 when 17 students were killed),” Raj-Silverman said. “They had to return to school seeing 17 empty seats. We want to demonstrate what that means and how we have been touched by it in our youth, which is unacceptable.”
Senior Hannah Austgen also helped organize the event by making posters.
“We need change and we need it now because kids are dying and it’s not going to end until there are better gun control laws,” she said. “It shouldn’t be so easy to get a gun.” Exemplifying her point, one sign read: “Guns shouldn’t be easier to buy than Juuls” (a brand of e-cigarettes).
The demonstration, explained Grace Dessert, was to send a message to Congress from “the future of America” that “school shootings and mass shootings are becoming more and more common and something needs to change because this is not OK.”
It was also held to encourage continued social action. “Students taking part in this walkout demonstrates to other students that they can make a difference, too, and them being involved will create change,” said Adina Keeling.
Students from the nearby Muirlands Middle School also came down to participate, including 13-year-old Duncan Carswell.
“I want a safer future, for me, my little sister and older brother, my friends and family,” he explained. “This is a strong issue in the student community. It’s hard going to school where this could happen. You think it can’t happen to you, but it happens too much in the USA.
“Fear doesn’t have a place in school. We need to be able to go to school knowing we are going to come home alive. Gun control is an issue students care about for a better, brighter, safer future.”