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Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Students Demand Action From Montpelier On Gun Control Bills

About 150 students from Montpelier High School walked out of class Wednesday afternoon to stage a rally on the steps of the Statehouse. Students across Vermont are calling on lawmakers to pass new gun legislation.
Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
/
The Times Argus
About 150 students from Montpelier High School walked out of class Wednesday afternoon to stage a rally on the steps of the Statehouse. Students across Vermont are calling on lawmakers to pass new gun legislation.

The school shooting in Parkland, Florida has given rise to a new wave of young activists. On Wednesday afternoon, House and Senate lawmakers heard from some of the Vermont students who are demanding action from Montpelier on gun control legislation.

Like most Vermont lawmakers, the members of the House and Senate education committees are getting on in years.

And so on Wednesday afternoon, at a public hearing in the Statehouse, students filled them in on what classroom life is like in 2018.

Students like Emma Pope-McCright, from Middlebury Union High School:

“Every day in school when the intercom crackles to life, my heart skips a beat, wondering if the announcement will be someone saying there’s a shooter in the school, that we need to hide, and our lives are in danger.”

And Nagias Anzali, an 8th-grader at Middlebury Middle School:

“Every night, I lie awake, imagining the all-too familiar scene of a school shooting happening at my school.”

As well as Middlebury high schooler, Wren Colwell:

“In this year, 2018, children like me walk into their schools and wonder if they will ever walk out. We look at the victims on the news and see faces that look just like ours.”

Willa Lane, a 15-year-old student at U-32 High School, says she and her classmates are rightfully afraid of a school shooting in Vermont.
Credit Peter Hirschfeld / VPR
/
VPR
Willa Lane, a 15-year-old student at U-32 High School, says she and her classmates are rightfully afraid of a school shooting in Vermont.

Willa Lane, who attends U-32 High School in East Montpelier, said it’s no wonder kids are afraid:

“I am 15, and I have seen the headline, ‘Worst Mass Shooting In U.S. History’ five times,” Lane told lawmakers. “My seven-year-old bother has seen it four times.”

The prospect of a mass shooting in Vermont hit far too close to home for many policymakers last month, when police arrested an 18 year old who allegedly planned to include mass casualties at Fair Haven Union High School.

Police say they thwarted the attack, thanks to a teenage girl who contacted authorities.

“Yes, the system was on our side this time,” Lane said. “But what about next time? Or the time after that? How many times will we be lucky enough not to die? Why is this even a question that I’m having to sit here and ask you?”

More than two dozen students took up lawmakers’ invitation to come testify about school safety and pending gun legislation.

Their message was clear and consistent.

“We can’t do anything without you, our senators and our representatives,” Anzali said. “Please, help us in our push for gun reform.”

Lawmakers already appear poised to move forward with many of the gun provisions students asked for on Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation that would require background checks for private gun sales, and raise the age limit for buying a gun to 21.

The bill would also ban ammunition magazines that carry more than 10 rounds.

For many students though, even those measures fall short of what they say is needed.

Chloe Clark, a Middlebury Union High student, says she’s all for the Second Amendment, and that she respects the hunting and sport shooting traditions.

“But no one needs an AR-15, or any type of assault weapon for that matter. Not only do I think that outlawing these types of gun for civilian use is important, but necessary,” Clark said.

House lawmakers briefly this week considered a ban on certain semi-automatic weapons. The provision was quickly shelved.

Many of the students who came out on Wednesday, however, say their generation will continue to push for more substantive restrictions on certain classes of firearms.

To the people who will oppose them, Nicholas Colwell, a student at Montpelier High School, says he has one question:

“Can you please — if you oppose that legislation — look me or any of my peers in the eyes and tell us that our lives are worth less than your right to own that type of weapon?”

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