Several hundred Hellgate High School students didn’t mince words on Wednesday when shouting down the National Rifle Association and calling on the nation’s lawmakers to get serious about adopting common-sense gun measures.
The students left class at noon to take part in a national wave of walkouts following the shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 dead last week. It was just the latest in a series of mass murders, and the Missoula students said they’ve had enough.
“We have a serious problem here,” said Maggie Gibbons. “It’s not about Republicans and Democrats. It’s about kids going to school and kids dying in a place that should be safe for them. We’ve failed them. Schools aren’t safe anymore and that’s a serious problem.”
Like students across the country, those in Missoula expressed frustration over their lack of voice on a national issue that has seen no resolution and little leadership. Too young to vote, they walked out of class instead, slowing traffic across the downtown district to make themselves seen and heard.
The gun lobby’s control over the nation’s elected leaders, including those from Montana, remains a source of dismay for many who marched on Wednesday (see the video here).
“There is a mental health issue, but it’s the fact that a specific group of white men have been able to execute their power over people for so long, and now they’re resorting to violence,” said Marly Scolatti. “That’s what so many of these shootings are. We’re telling this group today that they don’t have all the power in world.”
Several hundred strong, the students lined both sides of the Higgins Avenue Bridge, drawing honks of support from many passing motorists. They marched past the office of Sen. Steve Daines, only to find it closed, before making their way to the courthouse.
So far this year, the nation has seen at least eight school shootings, including one last month in Benton, Kentucky, which saw 16 people shot and two killed. In 2017, the nation suffered 345 mass shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
“I think it’s ridiculous that it’s still going on,” said Sylvia Luceno. “We’re out here today to show solidarity with the students saying enough is enough. We shouldn’t have to feel unsafe in the most important place for us to be today – in our schools.”
While Congress has failed to act on common-sense gun control and other measures aimed at reducing the violence, the Missoula City Council successfully passed its own ordinance in 2016 requiring mandatory background checks for all gun sales and purchases in the city limits.
The measure was later struck down by Montana Republican Attorney General Tim Fox. However, state Sen. Margie MacDonald, D-Billings, is now asking for a bill that would ensure background checks in Montana include everyone who is prohibited under federal law from buying firearms due to mental illness.
“I came out because we don’t have common-sense gun laws,” said Hellgate student Ignatius Fitzgerald. “You shouldn’t be allowed to buy a bump stock in the U.S. I know the president has started to move toward banning them, but there’s still a lot that needs to be done.”
The students said they received no interference from Hellgate administrators in leaving class Wednesday to join in the national walkout.
“Our teachers were extremely supportive of what we were doing,” said Khasidy Hodge. “Nobody tried to stop us.”