'Our lives are on the ballot': March for Our Lives Parkland rally calls for gun law reform

·6 min read

PARKLAND — Vote them out.

That was the refrain at a March for Our Lives rally in Parkland on Saturday, and it was directed toward lawmakers who refuse to support efforts to reduce gun violence.

Organizers said about 1,500 people attended the rally, expressing frustration and anger over the failure of to adopt what they called common-sense reforms that include a ban on the sale of assault weapons, adoption of red-flag laws, stronger background checks and an increase in age from 18 to 21 to possess guns.

“What we do not need is prayers and thoughts,” said Sarah Lerner, a teacher of English and journalism for the past 20 years at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where 17 people were killed on Valentine's Day in 2018 when Nikolas Cruz,  a 19-year-old man armed with a semiautomatic rifle, attacked the school.

Carlos Rodriguez of Parkland weeps in the arms of Camila Cortes of Coral Springs on Saturday as a speaker recalls the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting during a March for Our Lives event at Pine Trails Park in Parkland. Rodriguez and Cortes graduated from Stoneman Douglas High in 2019.
Carlos Rodriguez of Parkland weeps in the arms of Camila Cortes of Coral Springs on Saturday as a speaker recalls the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting during a March for Our Lives event at Pine Trails Park in Parkland. Rodriguez and Cortes graduated from Stoneman Douglas High in 2019.

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Two of Lerner’s students were killed.

Lerner helped found Teachers Unify to End Gun Violence in 2021 after a mass shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan that left four students dead.

“A shooting should have not happened at my school, but it also should have stopped at my school,” Lerner said, speaking to the rally.

March for Our Lives protests 

After the Stoneman Douglas shooting, teenage survivors organized to demand an end to school shootings and everyday gun violence. Hundreds of thousands of people joined the first March for Our Lives protests in Washington, D.C., and other cities in 2018.

Gun-safety rallies were held nationwide Saturday, including on the National Mall in Washington.

The mood of the rally Saturday in Parkland, which was held at Pine Trails Park, was angry but determined, with the large crowd, many of them wearing blue "March for Our Lives" T-shirts, surrounding speakers as they milled about the park, and breaking into chants calling for legislative action.

Participants held signs bearing phrases such as "Protect Kids, Not Guns," "Ban Assault Weapons" and "Recall DeSantis," a reference to GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis. Participants surrounded the entire trail ends of the park during a short march on a hot and sunny afternoon, chanting as they marched and holding up their signs.

“I don’t think school is safe,” said Zoe Weissman, the 16-year-old president of March for Our Lives Parkland, who said her activism has helped her heal from the trauma and PTSD associated with the shooting.

Cathy Grech of Margate holds her grandson Chase during a March for Our Lives event at Pine Trails Park in Parkland on Saturday. About 1,500 people attended the rally with a march around the park this afternoon.
Cathy Grech of Margate holds her grandson Chase during a March for Our Lives event at Pine Trails Park in Parkland on Saturday. About 1,500 people attended the rally with a march around the park this afternoon.

'Do you see why we're angry?'

Weissman was a student that day at Westglades Middle School, which is on the campus adjacent to the high school, and could hear screams and gunshots coming from next door while she was outside, she said.

“Our reality should be their reality. I saw kids dying and screaming. Do you see why we are angry?” she said.

The rally, which ended at around 11:30 a.m., featured numerous speakers including Weissman and shooting survivor Sari Kaufman, one of the main organizers for March for Our Lives in Parkland since 2018.

Kaufman said the local push for gun safety helped bring youth voter turnout up in record amounts in 2018 and is working to do the same thing in 2022.

“Enough is enough. Our lives are on the ballot, and our futures are on the ballot, and we will vote you out,” Kaufman told the crowd.

Lia Perez sits atop her father Dan's shoulders during a March for Our Lives event at Pine Trails Park in Parkland on Saturday.
Lia Perez sits atop her father Dan's shoulders during a March for Our Lives event at Pine Trails Park in Parkland on Saturday.

Kaufman said that there has been progress in recent years, noting that "red flag" laws have been passed in 20 states, including Florida, she noted. She implored attendees to build on that momentum.

“Keep fighting. Don’t back down. This time will be different.”

Groups such as Moms Demand Action and Teachers Unify to End Gun Violence attended the rally to support gun violence safety.

March for Our Lives staged rallies throughout the country after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24. The Uvalde shooting followed 10 days after a mass shooting In Buffalo, N.Y., where a white  gunman with avowed racist beliefs killed 10 shoppers and employees, most of whom were Black, at a grocery store.

There have also been mass shootings at a hospital in Tulsa in June 1, that left four people dead and on Thursday, an attack at a concrete-molding company in western Maryland that killed three people.

Debbi Hixon, whose husband Chris was a teacher at Stoneman Douglas, was killed during the Parkland shooting.

“For me, this is not something that ends with the end of the news cycle,” Debbi Hixon said. “The shooting has left me with a sense of emptiness that will never go away. Chris died trying to stop the shooter.”

She questioned how it was possible for a 19-year-old with a history of violence to purchase a weapon of mass destruction. “Chris survived defending this country in war but could not survive that day in school. I’m heartbroken that we are still begging our lawmakers to make changes.”

Emily Vogt of Pembroke Pines speaks to the media with her posterboard sign during a March for Our Lives event at Pine Trails Park in Parkland on Saturday.
Emily Vogt of Pembroke Pines speaks to the media with her posterboard sign during a March for Our Lives event at Pine Trails Park in Parkland on Saturday.

The remarks promoted another round of “Vote them out” chants along with a “We deserve better” refrain.

Democratic lawmakers face opposition 

The protest comes at a time of renewed political activity on guns and a crucial moment for possible action in Congress.

The House has passed bills that would raise the age limit to buy semi-automatic weapons and establish federal red-flag laws. Democratic and Republican senators had hoped to reach agreement this week on a framework for addressing the issue, but they had not reached an accord by Friday.

In Florida, hopes for special legislative session were dashed by DeSantis, who called the effort to reform state gun laws a "kneecap" to the rights of law-abiding citizens. "With all due respect to these leftists, they just want to come after your Second Amendment rights," DeSantis, who has been the state's Republican governor since 2019, told reporters Wednesday at a press conference in West Palm Beach.

DeSantis' rebuke came a day after Florida Democrats launched a poll, asking the GOP-led Legislature to reconvene in Tallahassee to address gun violence. Not a single Republican lawmaker voted in support of it, blocking the effort to hold the special legislative session to consider new gun safety laws.

According to a 2021 Quinnipiac University poll, most Americans support stricter gun laws. The same poll shows more than half support a nationwide ban on assault weapon sales.

Nearly everyone at the Parkland rally came with signs, including 9-year-old Sierra Williams. Her four-word message: “Adults have failed us.” Her father, Zachary, told The Post: “Well, maybe not all of them. Maybe 60.”

Breeana Flannery held a sign that read: “My child’s life is worth more than your gun.” She moved to South Florida 11 years ago from Australia and now lives in Miami.

She noted that there was a mass shooting at Port Arthur in the island state of Tasmania in 1996 that left 35 people dead and 18 wounded. A conservative prime minister, she said, supported stricter gun-control laws that included a ban on assault weapons.

The county also bought back 650,000 firearms at a cost of $350 million, according to the Guardian newspaper. Flannery noted that Australia has had no mass shootings since 1996.

Flannery has a message for critics who argue that the proposed reforms won’t curb mass shootings.

“Visit Australia. They do work.”

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: March for Our Lives Parkland rally calls for gun control legislation