New Orleans students organizing March for Our Lives for gun control


Students organizing in Minnesota in February. Student-led March for Our Lives events are planned nationwide this month. - PHOTO BY FIBONACCI BLUE/CREATIVE COMMONS
  • Students organizing in Minnesota in February. Student-led March for Our Lives events are planned nationwide this month.

In the wake of the killings of 17 people — mostly students — at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, thousands of students around the U.S. have galvanized against gun lobbyists, manufacturers and the elected officials to which they've donated millions of dollars.

That mass student-level organizing has been amplified by social media, acting not only as a living document of the violence committed in schools but a platform on which conservative thinktanks and politicians are routinely ratioed to death by teenagers who aren’t at all interested in thoughts and prayers followed by inaction.

“It was inspiring seeing students who are passionate this stand up and saying, ‘OK, that’s it. That’s enough,’” says Benjamin Franklin High School student Olivia Keefe says. “As someone who can’t vote, you feel like there’s nothing you can do.”

Keefe and Ben Franklin student Louise Olivier co-organized the New Orleans March for Our Lives event, joining a national movement and call to action for stronger gun control measures following the Parkland killings. A nationwide school walkout is planned for March 14, and a rally and march is planned for March 24.

“When we got started, the night of the Parkland shooting, I texted Louise” about starting a New Orleans movement against gun violence, Keefe said. “We need to have a place to start. This is a big place to start, but this is something that’s really prevalent in our society. Why not take it down?”

There have been at least 239 school shootings since the murders of 20 first grade children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. More than 400 people were shot and 138 were killed in schools, according to data collected by the Gun Violence Archive.

Gun violence and trauma in New Orleans — and the fact that it reaches countless young people, including children in school and their families throughout the city — is a crucial part of the New Orleans’ March for Our Lives banner.

“In New Orleans, since we have a lot of gun violence, there’s already a lot of students who are passionate about this issue, and the March for Our Lives platform has given them the attention they really need to tell what’s happened to them,” Keefe says. “A lot of students we’re working with have scars from gunshot wounds, or their families have guns to protect themselves.”

Olivier says the New Orleans event — organized by a network of student liaisons, parents and community organizations — is working alongside “groups who have been doing this for a long time. That’s how we make lasting change in this city.”

“Working with people who have completely different experiences from us has reminded us we need to look at our city, not just ‘we don’t want guns,’” Keefe says. “We have to be specific to affect change.”

A citywide march begins at noon March 24 at Washington Square Park and moves through the French Quarter to City Hall. The event has attracted hundreds of people on Facebook. The March for Our Lives network spans schools throughout the New Orleans area, including college students from Loyola University and the University of New Orleans, as well as the group Moms Demand Action Against Gun Violence.

Among the group’s demands is state legislation that bans or at least raises the age to purchase assault-style rifles. The group also is pushing New Orleans to develop stricter gun laws than those in place at the state level.

The group also demands local and state officials reject financial support from the National Rifle Association and plans to put pressure on the private sector to stop doing business with the NRA and similar special interest groups.

“That’s one sector where we can make a lot of change,” Keefe says. “Even if we can’t get some dramatic legislation passed with this administration — which is a definite worry, that this isn’t the administration that will bring gun control for us, unfortunately — we’re going to put a lot of pressure on the private sector. … They have to listen to the consumer, and the consumers are saying, ‘We’re going to boycott until you stop working with the NRA.’ We’re going to advocate for that as well.”

The Louisiana Legislature will consider several gun control measures in the coming months.

State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, filed House Bill 407, which “prohibits the importation, manufacture, sale, purchase, possession or transfer of a rapid-fire device and provides criminal penalties for violations of the prohibition.”

State Rep.Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, filed House Bill 603, which “prohibits the sale and possession of assault weapons and high capacity magazines and requires those who currently possess such weapons to register or surrender their weapon.”

State Sen. Troy Carter, D-New Orleans, has filed two measures: Senate Bills 155 and 274, which aim to raise the age of sales of assault weapons as well as “any firearm or other instrumentality customarily used as a dangerous weapon” from 18 to 21.

A similar measure from Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott was almost immediately hit with a lawsuit from the NRA on March 9 after Scott signed the measure into law.

Students also plan a school walkout on Wednesday, March 14 at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes to recognize the 17 people killed in Parkland.

Keefe and Olivier say they’ve heard several reports from other student liaisons at schools where officials are “watering down” protests with administrator-led action — students may be allowed to make signs, but they can’t have specific references to elected officials or political messages. To those students, the March for Our Lives organizers say “we hear you.”

“This should be a student-led movement,” Olivier says. “That’s totally essential, which is why Olivia and I and the student liaisons we’re working with think it’s important that we come up with the list of demands and speak to the students and organize ourselves.”

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