Students, parents and supporters of reform gathered at CiCo Park in Manhattan Saturday as a part of the March For Our Lives movement that spurred protests and demonstrations across the country over the weekend in the aftermath of the Valentines Day school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that took 17 lives.
Students and their families gathered with signs and started the event by marching around the entire park. Then, making it full circle back to the baseball field, they gathered to listen to speakers from the community.
Community member Alex Van Dyke, who spearheaded the event along with some of Manhattan’s local students, introduced each speaker. First up was State Representative Sydney Carlin of Manhattan.
Carlin started her speech by thanking all the businesses that stopped selling AR-15s. She said the pressure for gun control is not just on the legislature and the National Rifle Association, but on those businesses that sell weapons and guns for profit.
Carlin referenced recent reports that gun ownership has dwindled across the country and that a majority of the population are not gun owners. She told the crowd those voices need to be heard.
“Keep it up,” Carlin said. “This energy is what it takes.”
After Carlin, Maddy Wolfe, a local high school student stepped forward, who shared her personal story of having friends in Florida and her fear that it could hit closer to home. Wolfe continued on about how automatic, semi-automatic, and silencers are “not needed in the hand of the public.”
“A gun is used for protection,” Wolfe said. “Not for shooting down a crowd.”
Wolfe called for stricter gun regulations and the age for purchasing a gun to be raised from 18 to 21.
“Stand with me,” Wolfe said. “Stand with our teens, and stand with our country. Kids deserve the right to feel safe in school.”
Dave Colburn, a member of the USD 383 Board of Education, followed and read a prepared statement from the entire board.
“Are your personal and political views really more important than our students?” Colburn read, directed at opponents of gun reform.
Shana Bender, a special education teacher, also addressed the crowd and called for more counselors in the school system and more social workers in the community.
“Our community is not devoid of traumatic experiences.” Bender said. “We need more counselors and social workers, we need to pay them decent wages. This has to be part of the solution.”
Manhattan City Commissioner Jerred McKee also came forward.
He said that he’s in full support of the Second Amendment and he grew up being taught how to respect guns. Then he quoted the first three words of the second amendment, “A well regulated…”
“Elected officials have put money and politics before their constituents,” McKee continued. “Keep pushing for change. When you’re on to something that’s when they tell you to be quiet.”
At the end of the event Van Dyke came forward and shared some second steps with the crowd. Urging the public to vote and pay attention to the new bills and legislation. He said more rallies are planned in the future, specifically a student-ran “Rally Against Gun Violence” on April 20.
“I am inspired by the turn out,” he said. “And hopeful.”