Local students unite to call for change in fight against gun violence

(This story was originally published on WGRZ.com on 3/7/18, reporting by Danny Spewak: http://www.wgrz.com/article/news/local/local-students-unite-to-call-for-change-in-fight-against-gun-violence/71-526782309)

NORTH TONAWANDA, NY — Florida’s Parkland school shooting unified high school kids across the country with a common goal: to stop gun violence.

Next Wednesday, high school students are planning to walk out of their classes, protesting gun violence and sending a message to Congress about passing gun laws.

“This issue has gotten to a point where we can’t just sit back,” said Georgia Vanderwater, a senior at East Aurora High School. “We feel that as students and as future voters, it’s now our responsibility to take this into our own hands and speak and march and vote and stand up for this issue that affects all of us so greatly.”

Tonight at St. Joseph University Parish, a student panel of a few high schoolers, from freshmen to seniors, gathered to share their feelings and have a discussion about school security, gun violence and what can be done to help the problem that hits so close to home for them. The event was organized by New Yorkers Against Gun Violence.

Each student echoes the same desires — universal background checks, full or partial bans on semi-automatic weapons and bump stocks (including AR-15’s, the gun used in the Parkland shooting,) mental health restrictions and a higher age requirement.

Andy Kowalczyk, a Clarence High School senior, wants students to know they have the ability to create change.

Kowalczyk planned a protest of over 100 Clarence high schoolers outside Congressman Chris Collins’soffice a week after the Parkland shooting. They were upset about his stances on gun control, specifically last summer’s Second Amendment Gun Act.

Kowalczyk believes this issue is something both democrats and republicans can find a satisfiable solution for.

“I think both are just trying to do what’s right and both just are seeing it in two different ways,” Kowalczyk said. “I think we can reach a middle ground where both sides are perhaps not happy, but at least comfortable with the progress that can be made.”

Akilesh Ramakrishna, a Clarence junior, also believes there can be bipartisan support.

“I think there is support on both sides,” Ramakrishna said. “There is a happy medium we can find but I think the thing is that we’re much safer doing more than we need to than less than we need to.”

These Western New York high schoolers don’t just want this for local schools, they’re looking for national change. Change in federal laws to protect everyone, from students to churchgoers to people on the street.

“School safety laws, although they may protect schools, they don’t protect churches, malls, the streets,” Vanderwater said. “Gun violence is a pretty universal issue, and just protecting schools, although that is important, it doesn’t cover even the half of the issue itself.”

Kowalczyk said Clarence students will walk out on March 14 for 17 minutes, each minute to honor each Parkland shooting victim, as well as voter registration forms, petitions and local congressman contact information.

Kenmore East will be wearing orange is solidarity with the schools that are walking out, Snesker said. He say they are planning a walk out for April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine school shooting.

Vanderwalk said East Aurora High School students plan to walk out of class and congregate in the gym, where they will be read the names of over 400 students aged 12-17 who have been killed in 2018 due to gun violence, not just school shootings. As well as a letter writing campaign to congressman and senators.

“We should be able to just sit in English or sit in math, and focus about English or math, not focusing on ‘what if someone comes in with a gun’” Snesker said. “I was born four years after Columbine so I don’t know a world without school shootings.”

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