Thousands of students across the New Orleans area walked out of their classrooms Wednesday, joining their peers nationwide in calling for lawmakers to take action against gun violence a month after a mass shooting at a Florida high school left 17 people dead and sent shock waves through schools and communities nationwide.
The demonstrations drew students from at least nine local schools or universities.
Around the country, students at more than 2,500 schools left class at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes — one minute for every person killed Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“I think it’s sad that kids my age are being killed for nothing,” said Kennadi Robinson, a senior at New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School.
“It could be any one of us. It could be my little brother, who is at another school across the city. So we should stand up to stop things like that.”
Robinson and other students from Science and Math, the neighboring Lusher Charter High, the NET Charter High School and Benjamin Franklin High School all marched out of classrooms and held moments of silence for fallen victims.
So did students from Homer Plessy Community School in the French Quarter, John Ehret High School in Marrero and Fontainebleau High School in Mandeville. Students at Tulane University and the University of New Orleans also participated, according to Empower, the group organizing the walkout nationwide.
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Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of New Orleans held 17 minutes of prayer in all local Catholic schools.
Empower, the youth branch of the national organizing group Women’s March, and many students across the country are asking Congress to ban military-style assault weapons of the kind used at Parkland, require universal background checks before gun sales and allow courts to take guns away from people who show signs of becoming violent.
They're meeting resistance from gun rights advocates who say expanded background checks won’t stop criminals from obtaining guns, that federal gun control laws are already strong enough and that some proposals would rob people of their constitutional rights to due process and to own guns.
As the national walkouts — one of the largest student protests since the Vietnam war era — unfolded Wednesday morning, the National Rifle Association posted a photo on Twitter of a black rifle emblazoned with an American flag. The caption: “I’ll control my own guns, thank you.”
The walkouts also met mixed reactions from school administrators. While some threatened to punish students who participated, others were more supportive, even providing security.
At Aztec High School in a rural, gun-friendly part of New Mexico, students aimed to avoid politics and opted for a ceremony honoring students killed in shootings — including two who died in a December attack at Aztec.
About 250 students gathered on a soccer field at Colorado’s Columbine High School, where two teenagers went on a killing rampage before turning their guns on themselves in 1999. Meanwhile, students who survived the Sandy Hook Elementary School attack in 2012 walked out of Newtown High School in Connecticut.
About 10 students left Ohio’s West Liberty-Salem High School — which witnessed a shooting last year — despite a warning they could face detention or more serious discipline.
And police in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta patrolled Kell High, where students were threatened with unspecified consequences if they participated. Three students walked out anyway.
In and around New Orleans, many administrators stopped classes for 17 minutes to allow all who wanted to protest the chance to do that.
Close to 1,400 students from Science and Math and Lusher in Uptown New Orleans walked out, linking arms and forming a massive chain connecting the two schools.
Many students wore orange T-shirts, the national color of gun violence resistance, and held up handmade posters, emblazoned with the phrases “Enough” and “Mr. President, what will you do for our justice?”
Others pinned flyers to their chests that featured the names of students who have died in mass school shootings over the past 40 years, along with letters to local, state and national politicians asking for tighter gun rules.
As cars drove by the busy scene, some drivers rolled down their windows to offer a thumbs up or to applaud the students.
“It’s sad, because ... I lost track of how many (shootings) we have had just in the beginning of 2018,” said Trinity Fouchea, a senior at Science and Math who had an “I Stand with Mike Sanders” flyer pinned to her shirt.
Sanders was a 19-year-old senior killed in a school shooting in Stamps, Arkansas, in 1980.
There has been, on average, one school shooting a week nationwide since the start of 2018, CNN reported this month.
Emily Herbst, a Lusher senior, said she hoped the two schools’ joint demonstration would show people that students, fearful of their safety, stand united on the divisive gun-control issue.
Gwendolyn Yates, another Lusher senior, said that while she feels safe at Lusher, students at many other schools “don’t have that luxury."
Numerous schools in the New Orleans area have faced threats recently. Classes at UNO were canceled for most of Monday after 20-year-old student Nicholas Heard threatened to "make Columbine and Parkland look like nothing," authorities said.
In December, police arrested a Lusher eighth-grader for allegedly threatening to "shoot up" the campus. And since Parkland, the number of similar arrests has spiked, with several campuses forced to shut down while police investigated.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.