[image-1] Thousands of students and parents called for stronger gun control legislation in South Carolina Saturday afternoon at Riverfront Park.
The North Charleston event was a sister march to the Washington, D.C. March of Our Lives, which drew close to 800,000 people earlier in the afternoon. The national march was organized by survivors of the Feb. 14 Parkland, Fla. high school shooting in conjunction with the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, formerly Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Charleston’s march was put together and funded by local high school students. It comes 10 days after high schools participated in the 17-minute National School Walkout to honor the 17 lives lost in Parkland.
The afternoon was a repudiation of the perceived inaction by local and state officials to tackle gun reform and close the “Charleston loophole,” a term that was popularized after the Mother Emanuel shooting in downtown Charleston to describe the limited three-day waiting period for gun purchases.
Gun reform advocates claim that a longer period would have allowed federal authorities to properly vet white supremacist Dylann Roof, who killed nine parishioners at the historically black church in June 2015.
A state Senate bill to extend the waiting period to five days still lingers in committee.
Organizers and protesters also expressed their opposition to proposals to allow high school teachers to carry concealed weapons on campus. Last month, Gov. Henry McMaster said he would sign such a bill if it came to his desk.
[image-2] “We decide what will happen in this century,” said Jefferson Taylor, a sophomore at Palmetto Scholars Academy, a charter school in North Charleston. “We refuse to be defined as the Columbine generation. We refuse to be defined by Donald J. Trump.”
Lauren Haselden, a high school senior and a march organizer, told a crowd facing the Cooper River that many students now live in fear.
“We shouldn’t start shaking when the school goes into code yellow because of a lockdown, but we are scared,” she said. “I’m scared to go to school because I don’t wanna be gone.”
Standing on the sidelines, Issy Burch of Mt. Pleasant watched the crowd snake past her at Riverfront Park.
“We sort of stopped here and wanted to see some of the signs that we didn’t see,” she said. “So many of them talk about the kids in the future, and I think that’s pretty amazing, because that’s what we have to look at.”
Maggie Davis, a 16-year-old march volunteer and student at James Island Charter High School, said she was drawn to the march out of concern for the gun culture at her school.
“A lot of teenagers in James Island have guns, and they have a lot of gun stickers on their cars and paraphernalia related to it,” she said. “They all hunt, they’re not using it for negative reasons, but it’s still nerve-wracking to know that people have easy access to guns.”
On March 9, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation that raised the minimum age to purchase firearms from 18 to 21. The legislation also included a provision that allows certain teachers to carry guns in the classroom. [slideshow-1]