Chanting “we want change now,” hundreds of Blake High School students marched to Curtis Hixon Park Friday afternoon, calling for gun-control measures in the wake of the massacre in Parkland last week.
The crowd was stacked with mostly students, joined by other Tampa Bay area activists determined to perhaps finally see gun regulations enacted following the most recent shooting attack on primarily teenagers which stunned the nation.
“We don’t want your prayers, we want legislation,” read a sign held by Elizabeth Smith, who said that she’s never been much of a fan of the National Rifle Association, the all-powerful gun-rights organization that for nearly two decades has been described as the single most significant force for Congress and state legislatures failing to enact gun regulations.
“I feel like once we get rid of the NRA, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) can step in and figure out why these things are happening,” Smith said. “They say ‘they’re just high school students, they’re too young to know anything, but here we are. We know why we’re here, and we know what we’re talking about, and we know that if we do this, and we’re collective about compromise and change that we can get something done.”
Antonio Walker held a sign reading: “How many lives is your gun worth?”
Walker hopes that the anger in the country about Parkland can result in a diminution of the NRA’s power.
“I hope that they hate what we’re saying and they understand that it’s an issue for everybody,” he said of school gun violence. “It can happen to their kids. It can happen to any of us.”
While he won’t turn 18 until after the election, Walker can’t wait to vote in 2020.
“We’re about to vote and make change ourselves in our own voices,” he said, “so it’s time that we actually do that.”
Zoe Gallagher is a 14-year-old sophomore at Blake who also dances at the Patel Conservatory. She attended the march with her mother and little brother.
When she learned of the killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week, Gallagher was shocked and scared.
“I’m not really a big follower of politics, but things like that have made me think more about how I want to make sure to stay attuned about what’s going on, ” she said. “its made me more conscious.”
High-school students weren’t the only ones at the protest.
Sixty-eight-year-old Kent Fast says he vividly remembers the protests against the Vietnam War that was led by the younger generation half a century ago. He said the protests this week against gun violence “feel different,” a feeling he attributes directly to youth leading the activism, something not seen in America in a very long time.
A hunter and gun owner, Fast says he’s not “stupid” and sees no reason anybody needs an AK-47, AR-15 or any other type of assault weapon.
“I want some reasonable gun control and I think there’s some room for that,” he says, adding that “even Marco Rubio was moving off the square” regarding his announcement on live television on Wednesday night in the CNN town hall from Sunrise where he announced he now supported some gun regulations he had never previously believed in.
At 29, Hillsborough County Commission candidate Elvis Pigott is used to being one of the younger people at social protests. He calls it “very encouraging” to see so many people just half his (relatively young) age out in the streets calling for social change.
“Their eyes are open, and they’re determined to keep on knocking, until somebody answers,” says Pigott, a pastor from Riverview.