‘Support kids, not guns’: Petaluma students plead for stricter gun laws after Texas shooting
Dozens of Petaluma students and parents, alongside city leaders, marched Thursday afternoon from McNear Elementary School to Walnut Park in a protest against gun violence after 19 students and two teachers were shot and killed Tuesday in a Uvalde, Texas, classroom.
Organized by a group of McNear Elementary sixth-graders, the demonstration started at around 3:30 p.m. and ended at the corner of D Street, where students chanted, “Support kids, not guns,” as passing vehicles honked in support.
“We’ve tried to push for this before, especially after the Sandy Hook and Parkland shootings, but it’s just never happened,” said Poppiano, a McNear sixth-grader who organized the protest. “If we can push for more gun laws right now, we’d have the opportunity to affect so many people’s lives.”
The protest came two days after an 18-year-old man entered a fourth-grade classroom at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and opened fire, killing 19 students and two teachers, and injuring 17 others. The shooter was later shot and killed by a Border Patrol team.
McNear Elementary sixth-grader Mae Sterns said her school had participated in an active shooter drill just three weeks prior to the shooting. While she was scared during the drill, now, she said, she is even more terrified and feels for other students who feel the same way.
“I think this (protest) is a really good thing to do to make people more aware of how scared kids are getting because of (the shooting),” Sterns said. She added that at school the next day, principal Melissa Becker came into each classroom to discuss the situation with students and address any concerns.
Kennon Fleischmann, whose daughter attends McNear Elementary as a sixth-grader, attended the protest along with many other concerned parents. She said she made the difficult decision in talking to her daughter Tuesday night about the Texas shooting, knowing she might have heard about the incident from her friends the next day at school.
“I wasn’t sure at first how to handle it,” Fleischmann said, adding that her daughter was crying during the discussion and asked many questions about what happened. “At one point she said she didn’t want to go to school the next day and was scared to go to school. Through her seven years at McNear, she’s never not wanted to go to school before.”
Local leaders, including Mayor Teresa Barrett, Vice Mayor Dennis Pocekay, council members Dave King and Mike Healy, and district supervisor candidate Blake Hooper, also attended the protest to show support.
“What the students have done here today is amazing,” Hooper said. “Instead of getting stuck in the sadness of what’s happening and the despair, they’re focused on taking action.”
Barrett, who is also a member of the grassroots group Moms Demand Action, also said she is proud of the students for standing up, but that leaders and lawmakers also need to take the responsibility to make change.
“We’re the ones who are failing them,” Barrett said. “We can’t expect them to make the changes. The ball is still in our court. We have to take action on this.”
The students, parents and city leaders urged for tighter laws to limit the number of firearms in circulation and to make it tougher for people, especially young people, to buy guns.
“I think 18-year-olds shouldn’t be allowed to get guns and I think we shouldn’t be selling military rifles, and (have) background checks when you’re buying guns,” Sterns said.
Hooper recalled active shooter preparation he would have to do as a young student. Now 32 years old, he notices the same drills taking place, and the same types of shootings happening with the absence of national reform.
“A whole lifetime of these trainings have happened because of a whole lifetime of shooting deaths in schools year after year. We’re well past time to take action,” Hooper said. “We need to ban assault rifles; we need to make sure we have a restriction of magazines.”
After the Tuesday shooting, the California Senate passed a bill to allow private citizens to sue makers or sellers of untraceable ghost guns or illegal assault weapons. California is known to have some of the strictest gun laws in the U.S.
During Thursday’s protest, Pocekay and Healy also emphasized that mental health support is greatly needed in a time where people are struggling.
“I think our kids are suffering at all ages from COVID, and then to put this on top of it, it’s just going to make matters worse for them with anxiety, depression,” Pocekay said, adding that school district officials are also working to make resources more available.
Amelia Parreira is a staff writer for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-5208.