On a Snow Day, Students Rally in Boston Against Gun Violence

A walkout was canceled, but hundreds still gathered to send a message at the State House.

photo by spencer buell

Even though school closures foiled area students’ plans to walk out of class on Wednesday, a crowd of hundreds of young people turned up at the State House for a rally and day of lobbying to pass gun control measures.

Waving signs reading “WE NEED GUN LAWS! NOT GUN FLAWS!” and “NEVER AGAIN,” and chanting “enough is enough!” and “we want education, not annihilation!”, they marched from the Cathedral of St. Paul to the steps of the state capital and then made their way inside.

Working in partnership with groups like the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence and Moms Demand Action, they say they’re urging legislators implement extreme risk protective orders via a so-called “red flag” law that would empower judges to order gun seizures if petitioned by family members or housemates. A similar, but not identical, law was signed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott last week as part of a package of gun reforms.

“It’s common-sense gun legislation that we can feasibly get passed as a movement of students,” says Elias Kern, a 15-year-old sophomore at Somerville High School. “There’s actually no reason that we should allow people to get killed just because people want to win re-election. The death of Americans is not worth the NRA’s money.”

They also called for federal gun control policies, like an assault weapons ban akin to the one we have in Massachusetts, and had tough talk for the local affiliate of the National Rifle Association, the Gun Owners Action League. The organization has sued to overturn the state’s ban on assault weapons.

On Wednesday, GOAL  Executive Director Jim Wallace questioned students’ knowledge on gun issues. “Are these kids actually being educated about the subject or are they being indoctrinated about the subject?” he asked in an interview with the State House News Service. In an email to supporters, GOAL also asked parents to record videos of students’ rallies and report back to the organization “If you see anything indicating that these walkouts are pushing an anti civil rights agenda.”

Students who arrived in Boston hailed both from inside the city and from surrounding communities, representing from schools in Somerville, Cambridge, Arlington, Revere, Winchester, Wellesley, Waltham, Medford, and Shrewsbury, among others.

Some said they wanted to speak out because they felt the impact of gun violence in their day-to-day lives, and not just every time there’s another school shooting.

“My school bus has been diverted two or three times in the past year because someone has gotten shot along my route,” says Madeleine Ablett, a 14-year-old freshman at Boston Latin Academy. “So even if you’re not directly in the school, you’re still getting affected by gun violence in the neighborhoods.”

Nevalee Hawkins, also a Somerville sophomore, says she knows of two former students at her school who have been shot and killed. “We realized this needs to be changed and we can’t wait for adults to make this change,” she says. “We are the future, and we need to be the ones to force them to make this change.”

The day of action happened under a blue sky, but after a nor’easter dropped a heap of snow on Boston and beyond, leading to widespread school closures. Students said they were determined to lead their day of advocacy regardless of the weather.

“This is about showing our leaders that two feet of snow isn’t going to stop us,” said Maren Larkin, 16, of Arlington High School.

Students later gathered inside the State House’s Gardner Auditorium, where they spoke in front of a collection of state legislators who were receptive to their policy goals.

“I’m overcome,” Sen. Pat Jehlen, of Somerville, said, sounding choked up. ”You are part of something that is nationwide. … People all over the country are being led by you. It’s not just this room, it’s across the country. In one month you have built a bigger movement than i have seen built over a generation by grownups. I am so impressed with your skill, your abilities, your communication, your unity your ability to reach across class and race. I am glad that you’re the future.”

Supporters include Senate President Harriette Chandler. “The students are right: we need to do more,” Chandler said in a statement. “I believe extreme risk protection order legislation is an important next step, and we look forward to moving forward with our partners in the House to get this done.”

Those who addressed students included a Republican, Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, of Gloucester, who cheered bipartisan accomplishments on gun control in Massachusetts and said he hoped to see that reflected in Washington.

Separated into groups based on their city of residence, students also went on a tour of legislative offices to talk face-to-face with their representatives. One pack from Boston visited Sens. Sonia Chang-Diaz and Joe Boncore, both of whom said they supported the students’ policy goals. “I think you’re going to see something shortly, from the Senate at least,” Boncore told them, regarding “red flag” legislation, adding, “I’m with you.”

Angus McQuilken, co-founder of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, says he believes there is enough support in the House and senate to pass a so-called “red flag” or ERPO bill by the close of this legislative session, so long as there is enough will in both chambers to bring it to the floor for a vote. He thinks there’s sufficient pressure from young people to this year to finally make it happen. “It’s never an easy task, but I’ve never seen this kind of movement before,” McQuilken says. “We’re seeing generational change in attitudes toward firearms and the need for greater regulation of access to firearms, and I think it’s going to make an enormous difference.”