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Not One More

Students protest lack of gun violence legislation

NORTH LIBERTY– Students of North Liberty community schools have a message for state and federal politicians: We want gun reform.
They share a growing anxiety among students, faculty and parents around the nation who demand tougher action on gun laws. And on the afternoon of Friday, March 2, they made their voices heard.
At 2 p.m. during sixth period, students from North Central Junior High and Liberty High rose from their desks and gathered in front of North Central.
“I watched about 75 Liberty students leave the building at 2 p.m., which is about 10 percent of our population,” recalled Liberty High Principal Scott Kibby.
The teens marched west on Forevergreen Road to Hills Bank and Trust before standing on the corner of Ranshway Way and delivering their grievances through a megaphone to the support of honking motorists. Students held hand-made signs reading “Protect kids, not guns” and “Say ‘no way’ to the NRA,” alluding to politicians who accept contributions from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and have thus far refused to take serious legislative strides toward preventing future shootings.
Teens also used the large outdoor Hills Bank sign as a makeshift desk to write pre-addressed, postage-paid postcards to send to politicians including Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst, urging them to move forward on stricter background checks for gun buyers, raising the legal age to purchase a gun and tighter restrictions on military-grade weapons.
Raina Pfeifer, an eighth grader at North Central, explained that she, School President Posey Stoeffler and Beatrice Kaskie were inspired by a recent Iowa City-based protest on Monday, Feb. 19. There, City High, West High and South East Junior High students traveled to the Pentacrest in downtown Iowa City to voice their concerns.
“There’s not really a place around town that’s a big government building,” she said of North Liberty, “So we thought, let’s just go in the middle of town and make as much noise as possible.”
The junior high students coordinated with Liberty High and soon gained the support of West High as well.
The increased national conversation stems from a tragedy that unfolded last month. On Feb. 14, a 19-year-old gunman opened fire on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., killing 17 and injuring 14. The event, one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history, was a breaking point for citizens across the county who found no solace in the “thoughts and prayers” traditionally offered by many politicians in the wake of such tragedies.
The fallout of the Florida shooting has seen walkout demonstrations organized in cities throughout the nation, including Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.
As the group of over 100 students shouted chants of “We want change” and “Not one more,” North Liberty Police Department (NLPD) vehicles were parked at Hy-Vee Gas station across the street, ensuring the safety of the young activists. In anticipation of the protest, the NLPD ensured their mission to “inspire the public’s trust and protect the Constitutional rights of all citizens.”
The junior high students were thankful for support from teachers and administration who contacted their parents to let them know the situation.
“This just shows that from one idea and one person can make a huge, huge difference, said Julia Stoll, an eighth grade student at North Central. “I think people are finally realizing that we all have voices and we should all be able to use our voices.”
“We were talking about how we never thought we would get an opportunity to kind of speak our mind about something, and it’s so cool that we finally did,” added fellow classmate Gabby Brecht.
The students and their sympathizers certainly have a tough road ahead. Passing significant firearm legislation has proven a stiff task over the last few decades, with swift opposition from the NRA and politicians. The federal government has been barred from even studying gun violence, an epidemic the American Medical Association has since dubbed “a public health crisis.” This is thanks to the so-called “Dickey Amendment,” passed in 1996 with the strong backing from the NRA. It stipulates that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” While not explicitly banning CDC research on gun violence, it was paired with a $2.6 million budget cut– the exact amount the agency spent on firearm research the year prior. The provision’s namesake, Republican U.S. Representative of Arkansas, Jay Dickey, later regretted preventing the CDC’s research of gun violence.
For Principal Kibby, the sentiments raised by local students resonate personally. Last fall, during a 30th anniversary vacation in Las Vegas, the principal and his wife, Kari, were witnesses to the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. While the couple managed to flee the scene, physically unharmed, the events of Oct. 1 left a big impression.
“Students certainly have the right to express their opinions. As someone who escaped Vegas, I certainly have been impacted by gun violence,” he sympathized. “Kids all around the country are asking adults to do something about gun violence, and those in power should listen to what the kids are saying.”
“It may be a dream right now, but we’re gonna look back on this five, 10, 20 years later and we’re just gonna be, like, ‘Wow, I did that. We did that,’ and it’s so incredible,“ remarked Stoll of the students’ activism.
“I think that we’ve been underestimated,” said Beth Jaeger of North Central. “Honestly, we’re going to be people that end up bringing change in this nation– the next generation. We’re gonna be congresspeople, the leaders of the country, in just a few decades,” she predicted.
“I don’t think they’re gonna be ready for us.”