Katie McKenna, a junior at Juneau-Douglas High School, speaks against gun violence at a vigil for the victims of the shooting last year in Parkland, Florida, held at the Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019 on the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Katie McKenna, a junior at Juneau-Douglas High School, speaks against gun violence at a vigil for the victims of the shooting last year in Parkland, Florida, held at the Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019 on the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

High school students say they’ve seen enough shootings

Parents and representative join students, speak at the Capitol

One year later, and high school students are still waiting to see gun reform.

Students Demand Action, an organization made up of about 20 Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé students, organized a vigil for the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people died.

In addition to memorializing lives lost to gun violence, organizers said the event at the Capitol Thursday was meant as a signal to State Legislators almost a year after Juneau high-schoolers joined students across the nation in walkouts that gun violence remains an important issue to young voters.

“We want to spread the idea that we’re here and fight for our rights as students,” said Portia Carney, a Juneau-Douglas junior, Students Demand Action member and one of the vigil’s leaders. “We shouldn’t have to be scared to go to school.”

Prior to the vigil, students also passed out valentines related to the issue of gun violence to legislators.

During the event, students advocated for the type of change they would like to see.

“I offer a few ideas that many of my peers and I see as common sense,” said Katie McKenna, a Juneau-Douglas junior, member of Students Demand Action and one of the vigil’s leaders. “First, instead of arming teachers, equip them with the resources necessary to support kids in need. We won’t get there by slashing budgets. Don’t take all guns away since we are a state with cultures and economies that depend on hunting, but take them out of the hands that are unfit to hold them.”

[Proposed budget could cost state tens of thousands of jobs, experts say]

The suggestions were met with applause from a crowd of a few dozen people in hats, gloves and scarves to face blustery winds that sent ice and snow off rooftops into exposed skin.

Other speakers, including Moms Demand Action Member Jan Caulfield and State Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, advocated similar steps and noted a lack of policy change.

Moms Demand Action is a parent group that meets monthly and advocates for public safety measures to protect people from gun violence.

“I am so horrified that my generation could not fix this,” said Hannan, who is a former JDHS teacher. “I went to work at Juneau-Douglas High School in 1996. “We had already had a school shooting in Bethel, Alaska, and Columbine happened that year. Here we are a generation later with Parkland, and we haven’t changed any laws, or improved mental health or gun protections or screenings or background checks or ready access.”

Both Caulfield and Hannan applauded students for being involved in their community and advocating for something they care about.

“Many of us are inspired to run for office because you’re inspired enough to stand up here with the winds of change blowing,” Hannan said referencing the windy weather. “You will not be here at 55 years of age — OK, I’m a little bit older than that — and talk about generations lost to gun violence.”

McKenna, Carney and Caulfield explicitly advocated for a “red flag law,” which would allow for the temporary removal of firearms from a person who may present a danger to others or themselves.

Caulfield invited the crowd to an advocacy day planned for Feb. 27 at the Capitol.

“We will be talking to legislators about sensible gun control, including the red flag law that Katie and Portia were talking about,” Caulfield said. “We’re expecting a red flag bill to be introduced this session, and we want to do everything that we can to organize to support it.”

The message was well received by those in attendance, including Laura Dameron, a parent of a Students Demand Action member, who held a sign supporting allowing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun violence.

[High school student gets another shot at state poetry competition]

She said it was disturbing to her that gun violence is such a reality, that schools have incorporated active shooter response into their routines.

“I’m horrified my kids have stay-put drills,” Dameron said. “I’m tired of hearing about school shootings. I’m tired of hearing about kids dying in gun accidents.”

• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenHohenstatt.

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