“I am 13 years old. I should be worried about what Netflix show I want to watch next, not a plan of escape from a public place.”
Sandra Gonzalez-Parral, an eighth grader from Wake County, was speaking to hundreds who gathered outside Pullen Memorial Baptist Church Tuesday in Raleigh to demand gun control legislation from state and federal lawmakers.
Zainab Antepli, another Wake County student, offered a fiery denunciation of school violence and anti-gun control politicians that stirred the crowd.
“We are calling for common sense,” said Antepli. “We are calling for adults to act like adults.”
The rally was emotional, hopeful and seething at the same time, as North Carolina K-12 students lit candles in memory of the 17 people who died in a mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school last week. Afterwards, they marched down Hillsborough Street to the state capitol in downtown Raleigh, holding signs that alternately skewered legislators and gun culture.
“Thoughts and prayers cannot bring back those students to their families,” said Zoe Nichols, a student at Broughton High in Raleigh.
Tuesday’s rally was one of a number of massive, student-led protests cropping up since a 19-year-old allegedly used an assault rifle to gun down teenagers and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High a week ago.
Protesters are planning multiple events in March, including campus walk-outs and a national march in Washington, D.C., to advocate for change in the nation’s gun laws, even as gun rights groups push back against any restrictions.
Speakers on Tuesday talked about mental health awareness, but saved the most anger for the NRA and politicians such as Republican senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, who were reportedly among the largest beneficiaries of NRA contributions in the last election.
“We are watching you,” said Rev. Nancy Petty, pastor at Pullen Memorial. “We are paying attention and we demand change.”
“Once again our national leaders have failed us,” added Bryan Lee, Pullen Memorial’s youth minister. “Once again our state leaders have failed us.”
State leaders signaled their intent to at least discuss school safety in the coming weeks, with N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore announcing the launch of a new legislative committee geared toward possible legislation.
Yet the GOP-controlled General Assembly seems unlikely to approve any stringent gun restrictions in the coming days, even as Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, called on lawmakers to take action.
Cooper said Tuesday that he spoke to his daughters after the Parkland shooting, and millennials have “had enough of this.”
“It is time to step up and do something,” said Cooper. “It is time to make sure that we look at all options, that we strengthen background checks. There is just no reason why someone with this background that people knew about should be able to go in and buy an (AR-15) assault rifle.”