New Orleans-area students, their teachers, parents and others calling for stronger gun control measures and an end to gun violence rallied through downtown New Orleans March 24, joining a national March for Our Lives movement organized in the wake of the killings of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Hundreds of people spanning at least eight blocks marched from the Marigny through the French Quarter, past Jackson Square and into the CBD, then ending with a rally where students and elected officials called on legislators to adopt a platform promoting stronger gun control measures.
The movement is calling for universal background checks, a ban or age restrictions on so-called assault weapons, the repeal of the National Rifle Association-backed Dickey Amendment preventing the Centers for Disease Control from work that promotes gun control, and an end to the NRA and other lobbying groups' influence in politics.
The banner of "Enough" has waved throughout the last several weeks leading up to the march, following February's Parkland murders and more than 130 deaths in schools since the 2012 killings of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.
"Until today I have been silenced," said Olivia Keefe, a 17-year-old Benjamin Franklin High School student and co-organizer of the New Orleans march. "I'm silenced by the words 'you kids don't know what you're talking about.' I'm silenced by the words 'you're too young to understand why these policies will never be changed.' ... How many school shootings has the average member of your generation been a survivor of? ... You're not the one who grew up with active shooter drills."
[jump] Locally, several pieces of pending legislation at the Louisiana legislature are hitting a few of the benchmarks set by students and gun control advocates. New Orleans-area Reps. Gary Carter and Helena Moreno aim to prohibit the sales of assault weapons in Louisiana and/or raise the age of buying them. Moreno, who received a round of applause after flaunting her "F" rating from the NRA, said she received pushback from the NRA for attempts to prevent people convicted of stalking from possessing firearms, among other measures. 'That's not about protecting law-abiding citizens," she sad. "That's about protecting gun sales."
Not lost among the organizers, many of whom are white, is the disparity in recent nationwide momentum around gun control and the decades of gun violence affecting young Black people despite ongoing efforts among Black communities and organizations to rally around measures to prevent more killings, only to be met with relative silence.
Moreno pointed to the fatal shootings of two people on Mardi Gras that injured three others.
"There's that argument that 'those weapons in New Orleans used on streets are illegally obtained," she said. "But at the end of the day we have to stop that pipeline of these assault weapons being so easily bought and accessed so we can stop those illegal weapons from being out on our streets." [content-1] Groups of students throughout the march led chants and waved colorful signs and banners calling out Louisiana Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Neely Kennedy for their campaign contributions from the NRA, on U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise's calcified position on gun rights, and a number of other calls to action that have resonated throughout those same streets during a dozen massive demonstrations over the last two years - "this is what democracy looks like," "the people united will never be defeated," and "whose schools? our schools."
Signs memorialized Marjory Stoneman Douglas students as well as Michael Ensley, killed in a Los Angeles high school in 1993 despite warning to officials of threats of violence. Others read "Arm me with school supplies" and "It only takes one bullet to break 1 million hearts." An 8th grader from Paul Habers Charter School led the crowd in a series of chants from a stage at Duncan Plaza.
"In their greed and focus on winning their next election, our officials have become puppets of the [NRA]," said 17-year-old Brother Martin High School organizer Elliot Canty "The same politicians who claim to be pro-life allow the senseless killings of Americans. ... We're here to send them a message: That message is, if the NRA can hold our government hostage and buy our weak-willed puppet politicians, we will vote your puppets out."
City Council President Jason Williams also took on "pro life" advocates who don't extend that sentiment to students. The killings of 13 people at Columbine High School in 1999 "unfortunately has become the new weird normal," where "the one place specifically designed to give children a safe place, the place we make them go, has turned into a place of fear."