SALT LAKE CITY — Hundreds of Weber County students and residents drove to Salt Lake City on Saturday with two different messages: some want stricter gun control laws, and others want to protect the Second Amendment.
The Salt Lake City Police Department estimated 8,000 people marched from West High School to the steps of the state capitol as part of March for Our Lives, a student-led movement demanding gun control.
Han Johnson, a 17-year-old Ben Lomond High School student, was one of the Salt Lake City march organizers. She said the Parkland, Florida, shooting that left 17 dead inspired her to get involved in the movement. She helped rally students from Northern Utah to attend the Salt Lake march.
“At my school, the school shootings have kind of become a joke,” Johnson said. “We are literally losing lives.”
Johnson said she feels hopeful the marches across the country will ignite change as politicians realize there are many people demanding modifications to gun laws.
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Ogden High student Sophie Scothern, 18, said she participated in the march to encourage politicians to listen to the students. She said she fears a school shooting.
“When you walk in the school every day you know there’s a risk that somebody (with a gun) could walk in that school,” Scothern said. “I’m fearful for what could happen.”
At the state capitol, the students held a rally, during which they chanted “Never again” and “Vote them out,” in reference to what they intend to do to politicians who do not support their movement. Students were encouraged to be at the front of the march, an attempt to send a clear message that they are in control of the movement.
Elizabeth Love, a West High School organizer, said she doesn’t understand why politicians have not acted on gun control yet.
“I certainly don’t understand why today, across the nation, we have to hold the biggest protest in American history to tell our lawmakers that 17 people shot at a high school is not acceptable,” Love said.
She asked adults to believe in the student movement and to support them, as many of the students are not old enough to vote.
“Today you march for our lives and we thank you for that, but tomorrow we need you to vote for them,” Love said. “Voting is about creating a better tomorrow, which America can never have if all of its tomorrows were shot in math class.”
The students were preceded by members of a pro-gun counter-protest, who also marched to the state capitol in what they called the March Before Our Lives. The event was organized by the Utah Gun Exchange, a website where people can sell and buy guns. Many at the march carried concealed weapons.
Howard Pluim, 58, was one of about 1,000 participants in the pro-gun counter-protest. He said he wanted to show opposition to the anti-gun rally because he believes in the Second Amendment.
Pluim said education, not raising the minimum age to buy guns, is part of the solution to the gun violence epidemic.
“If we want to raise the minimum age (to buy guns), why don’t we raise the minimum age of people who vote?” the Ogden man asked. “You can take away anybody’s rights for any reason you want, but education is the key to all of this.”
Pluim said his two sons, Abraham, 15, and Isaiah, 12, wanted to join him. They both held signs in support of the Second Amendment.
“Bad guys — they are not going to obey the laws,” said Abraham Pluim, a Mound Fort Junior High School student. “We gotta protect ourselves from them, it’s our right. And after changing the Second Amendment they are going to want to change the other amendments and we will have no freedoms.”
Donna Ferrell, of Layton, said gun control laws would not make schools any safer.
“They have talked about regulating semi-automatics and I think what most Americans don’t understand is that’s most guns — that’s everything except revolvers,” Ferrell said. “They really are trying to take away guns.”
However, Ferrell, who brought her 4-year-old son, Stephen, to the event, said she recognizes the growing concern of school shootings.
“I think all Americans are concerned about school shootings, but I think disarming and creating laws for law-abiding citizens doesn’t change school shootings,” she said. “Criminals don’t follow laws, that’s what makes them criminal.”
But for many students who participated in the march for gun control, demanding stricter laws does not mean getting rid of the Second Amendment.
Pavel Asparouhov, an organizer from West High School, said the movement’s goal is to protect students from gun violence.
“We are not trying to take away people’s guns,” Asparouhov said. “We are trying to put in common sense gun legislation.”
Contact education reporter Sergio Martínez-Beltrán at email@example.com or 801-625-4274. Follow him on Twitter @SergioMarBel and like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/STANDARDEXSergio.