In solidarity with young people around the nation, students throughout San Luis Obispo County protested gun violence Wednesday by walking out of morning class to advocate for solutions.
Standing in support of the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida., local students called for "common-sense gun legislation, school safety, and greater mental health resources on school campuses," they said in a joint statement.
The student-led walkouts included a variety of speakers and performances at high school school campuses that included San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, Nipomo's Central Coast New Tech High, Nipomo and Morro Bay; Cayucos Middle School also participated.
The planned walkout at Atascadero High School was canceled after the school went into lockdown following a threat on social media. A student was taken into custody after he threatened in an Instagram post to "shoot up" the school Wednesday morning.
Each walkout began either at 9:45 a.m. or 10 a.m. and lasted 17 minutes — one minute for each of the 17 lives lost in Parkland, where a mass shooting occurred Feb. 14.
“Our hope is that these walkouts will be a positive influence on students by engaging them in the political process and reinforcing the notion that we all have a voice," Arroyo Grande High School senior Casey Crouch said. “Beyond actually changing gun laws, this movement will raise the standard of national discussion on such issues. The #Enough National School Walkout is about starting a dialogue, and students of the Central Coast, along with students across the country, are uniting to fulfill that purpose.”
In their joint statement, the students said their goal is to continue to be "ambassadors of a new generation of leaders, each of whom are thoughtful and articulate individuals that want their voices heard by those in power."
“What happened at Parkland has unfortunately become all too commonplace in America,” said San Luis Obispo High senior Oliver Hicks. “The issue of gun violence has continually been pushed to the side by politicians across the country, so our walkout is an opportunity to show them that students are tired of this inaction and lack of a real discussion. We hope that our efforts will open up a much needed dialogue instead of just thoughts and prayers.”
Some school districts, including Paso Robles and Lucia Mar, blocked the local media from covering the protests.
Paso Robles officials notified parents in a letter that any student who walked out of class to protest would be sanctioned with an unexcused absence. The school adjusted its daily schedule to allow for activities for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. Student organizers of the event encouraged classmates to return to class after the walkout rather than leaving campus.
Here is a snapshot of what took place on campuses Wednesday countywide.
San Luis Obispo High
An estimated 300 to 400 students gathered at San Luis Obispo High, where protest leaders read the names of the Parkland victims, observed a moment of silence, advocated for policy change and read a poem. Some protesters wore orange shirts that said "We are students, we are change."
"I see more action from the sea of orange standing before me than from some of the members of our Congress, who sit idly by as more and more students become victims," said Rutik Shinglet, an 18-year-old senior.
Shinglet said that he believes teachers would be willing to “take a bullet for each of their students, but that doesn’t mean we should expect them to shoot bullets instead.”
“They suggest we put more guns into the equation,” Singlet said. “They say arm our teachers, the ones who are already underpaid and lack sufficient resources to educate students properly.”
Shinglet recommended instead increasing the age limit for buying rifles to 21, implementing and enforcing universal background checks, closing the gun show loophole and banning assault rifles.
“I believe in an individual’s right to arm oneself for self-defense for a sense of security in their own home, but it doesn’t take military-grade weapons to do that,” Shinglet said. “In fact, I ask all AR-15 owners this: Is your right to shoot at fake targets every now and then more important than the right of those 17 victims in Parkland, Florida, to live?”
Minori Jaggia, 17, read a poem, ending with the words, “Today, all across America we stand. Let us not forget the 17 lives until we feel safe on our land.”
San Luis Coastal board member Mark Buchman attended the rally and spoke to The Tribune on his own behalf after the rally.
“I can’t believe how ridiculous it is that students are having to tell adults what’s right and what’s wrong,” Buchman said. “I think we’ve seen it in the past. Students can be effective agents of change, like with the Vietnam War. That’s what it took in the past, and that’s what it will take here."
Organizers also urged students who are 18 to vote.
"Choose your constituents over the NRA or be voted out of office," Shinglet said.
Arroyo Grande High
Media was not allowed on campus during the protests at Lucia Mar Unified School District schools due to safety concerns, but students with the high school newspaper, The Eagle Times, told The Tribune that the protest appeared to go off "without a hitch."
A Women’s March community event calling for action on gun violence, a public rally called a “March for Our Lives,” will take place at 2 p.m. March 24 in San Luis Obispo.