Students marking Columbine anniversary call for gun control in walkouts across U.S.

Thousands of students across the United States are marking 19 years since the massacre at Columbine High School today by walking out of classes, in a show of unity intended to put pressure on politicians to enact tighter gun restrictions.

Walkouts from classes come a day after gun-control activists rally near Colorado high school

Students from Fiorello H. Laguardia High School in Manhattan, New York City, march out of their school in support of stronger gun laws, tying in with the 19th anniversary of the deadly shooting at Colorado's Columbine High School. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

Thousands of students across the United States are marking 19 years since the massacre at Columbine High School today by walking out of classes, in a show of unity intended to put pressure on politicians to enact tighter gun restrictions.

Students from more than 2,600 schools and institutions were expected to take part, organizers said. They have been asked to wear orange, the official colour of the campaign against gun violence, and observe a 13-second silence to honour the 13 victims killed at Columbine High School in Colorado.

Waving placards with slogans including "No more gun violence" and "I should be worried about grades, not guns," they walked out of school in cities including New York, Detroit and Washington.

Outside the White House, scores of young protesters sat in silence while they listened to the names of gun violence victims read aloud.

"It's an issue that's been in this country for a long time," said Ayanna Rhodes, 14, who walked out of Washington International School.

"[The Columbine killings] happened like 20 years ago, and we are still getting mass shootings in schools."

On April 20, 1999, two Columbine seniors killed 12 of their classmates and a teacher before committing suicide. Since then, mass shootings have occurred with shocking frequency across the United States.

In the latest gun violence to hit a high school, one person was wounded and a suspect was in custody after a shooting on Friday morning at Forest High School in Marion County, Florida, police said.

The second deadliest public school shooting in U.S. history occurred in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, leaving 17 dead. The shooting set off a national student movement calling for an end to gun violence and tighter gun restrictions.

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      Carlos Rodriguez, a 17-year-old junior from Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was in Columbine for the anniversary, and said he found a sense of solidarity.

      "That's the only thing that's keeping us Douglas students alive right now: the distraction of fighting for our rights and advocating for our lives," Rodriguez told Reuters. "It's the one thing keeping us hopeful, it's the one thing keeping us from not being able to sleep at night."

      2nd national walkout in weeks

      The walkouts, speeches and drive to sign up voters on Friday are aimed at pressuring U.S. politicians to enact tighter restrictions on gun sales in the run-up to November's midterm congressional elections.

      After walking out of class and observing the 13-second silence, it was up to students how to demonstrate. Suggestions from national organizers included marches to the offices of local lawmakers, speeches and voter registration activities.

      On Thursday, Colorado gun control activists rallied near Columbine High School, calling for an end to gun violence.

      The inner ring chairs displayed outside a school in Manchester, N.H., have names of the Columbine victims. The outer ring chairs have names of the Parkland High School shooting victims from Florida. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

      Columbine has not held classes on April 20 since the massacre, a district spokeswoman said, so there would be no walkout at the school. Students were encouraged to take part in community service.

      For Frank DeAngelis, who was principal of Columbine High School when the shooting occurred, April 20 is "a tough day."

      "I think the kids are calling out the adults. The 'Never Again' group from Florida has said that 'you've let us down,'" he told CBC News.

      "After every school shooting, whether it be Red Lakes, Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, we hear the same rhetoric but we do not do anything about it. So I think now they're saying that action needs to be taken, so we're going to take charge — and hopefully they have more success than some of the adults have."

      The latest national rally comes more than a month after tens of thousands of students from some 3,000 schools participated in the #ENOUGH National School Walkout to demand that lawmakers seek tighter gun-control regulations.

      It also follows "March For Our Lives" rallies in cities across the United States on March 24 that were some of the biggest U.S. youth demonstrations in decades, with hundreds of thousands of young Americans and their supporters taking to the streets to demand tighter gun laws.

      A Columbine shooting survivor discusses the traumatic events in an interview with CBC's Suhana Meharchand 6:35

      Plans for Friday's walkout began only hours after the Parkland shooting, when a Connecticut teen started an online petition calling for protests on the anniversary of Columbine.

      Sophomore Lane Murdock then gathered a few other students at Ridgefield High School to orchestrate the national protest, which seeks to find solutions to gun violence and get young people involved in the political process.

      They also have received help from Indivisible, a left-leaning nonprofit based in Washington that helps boost grassroots activism. The group says it was formed after the 2016 election to oppose the policies promoted by President Donald Trump.

      "We're walking out to remember every single young person who has been killed by American gun violence," Murdock said in a statement Thursday. "We're walking out to talk about the real problems our country is facing, and the solutions that our leaders are too scared to dream up."

      'We as citizens must make this the voting issue,' says David Hogg of Marjory Stoneman Douglas H.S. 0:34

      Dudley Brown, president of the Colorado-based National Association for Gun Rights, said the gun-control movement seeks to have the government take away rights.

      "The main objective of these students is to ban firearms completely, and confiscate the firearms of law-abiding Americans," Brown said. "We will oppose them at every step."

      There's no single organization or group that speaks for students protesting gun laws, but on Friday students in cities across the U.S. took their concerns about gun violence to the streets, chanting "the NRA has got to go!" and "Enough is enough."

      March for Our Lives, which has been a major driver of the recent wave of activism, lists four specific goals, which don't include confiscating guns from law-abiding Americans.

      Their stated goals are: 

      • Universal background checks.
      • The creation of a digitized, searchable database for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
      • A ban on high-capacity magazines.
      • A ban on assault weapons.

      Friday's walkout followed a wave of activism in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Organizers urged students to leave class at 10 a.m. to honour victims of gun violence.

      (CBC)

      With files from CBC News and The Associated Press