LAWRENCE, Kan. — A week after the tragic shooting at a Florida high school that claimed the lives of 17 people, students at Free State High School staged a walkout on Wednesday.
Hundreds of students took part in the protest featuring a 17-minute moment of silence, each minute for a victim of the shooting.
Students also demanded action on gun legislation, including expanded background checks, during the walkout.
“When you get hundreds of kids all together doing the same thing, no one can really ignore it,” explained Free State sophomore Jadon Ballinger. “We believe that if we make it harder for people to get firearms, especially automatic ones like assault rifles, it would all make us feel a little safer.”
Teenagers across the country have been holding protests like the one in Lawrence on Wednesday in response to the Florida shooting.
Ballinger said he first heard about the walkout the day before the event.
Word spread quickly for the protest and Ballinger hoped it sent a strong message.
“It’s at the point where people can’t take it anymore,” he explained. “We’re at the point where something needs to be changed immediately as soon as possible.”
Protests are also being planned at other metro schools, including Paul Kinder Middle School in Blue Springs.
Miriya Stiles, a 14-year-old 8th grader at the school, helped organize a petition for a walkout to be held March 7th.
The petition on Change.org, which Stiles only expected around 100 people to sign, had over 2,000 signatures on Wednesday evening.
Stiles hoped the show of support for the walkout would lead to lawmakers and school leaders making things safer for students.
“Words can’t describe the fear that students have to go through every day to walk the halls in school and know that things like (the Florida high school shooting) are happening. People are dying,” she explained. “You walk the halls at school wondering if at any moment your life could come to an end.”
Stiles hopes the walkout in March can also serve as a chance for students to come together in the face of tragedy.
“Some people are going to look at this as an act of rebellion but it’s an act of unity if anything,” she explained. “We can start making a difference early. We don’t want the world left dark and tragic when we’re adults.”
Ballinger said more walkout are being planned in Lawrence in the weeks ahead.
Moving forward, he hoped the protests would lead to change.
“Anything I can do I hope to be involved as much as possible,” he explained. “We really do think we can make a change and make our country safer.”