Montgomery Co. students lead 2nd walkout in call for tougher gun laws

Montgomery County students led hundreds in a mass walkout from schools on Thursday, in a bid for tougher gun laws. Pictured: An energized group of students face the White House with signs supporting increased gun control measures. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Montgomery County students led hundreds in a mass walkout from schools on Thursday, in a bid for tougher gun laws. Pictured: An energized group of students face the White House with signs supporting increased gun control measures. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez) (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
The second iteration of MoCo Students for Change's walkout drew hundreds to the White House before a march to the Capitol, pressuring Congress to pass comprehensive gun control legislation. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
The second iteration of MoCo Students for Change’s walkout drew hundreds to the White House before a march to the Capitol, pressuring Congress to pass comprehensive gun control legislation. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez) (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Student gathered outside the White House north lawn on Thursday morning, before a 2-mile march to the U.S. Capitol to join Democratic members of Congress in a rally against gun violence. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Student gathered outside the White House north lawn on Thursday morning, before a 2-mile march to the U.S. Capitol to join Democratic members of Congress in a rally against gun violence. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez) (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Though the protest was chiefly organized by Montgomery County student activists, other youth-led groups from Maryland, D.C. and Virginia also participated. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Though the protest was chiefly organized by Montgomery County student activists, other youth-led groups from Maryland, D.C. and Virginia also participated. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez) (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A student with a March for Our Lives hat sits outside the White House during a walkout for gun control from area schools on March 14 — almost one year since hundreds of thousands filled the streets of D.C. in a protest against gun violence. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A student with a March for Our Lives hat sits outside the White House during a walkout for gun control from area schools on March 14 — almost one year since hundreds of thousands filled the streets of D.C. in a protest against gun violence. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez) (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Many students at the walkout wrote "don't shoot" on their hands, the final words of Michael Brown before his death at the hands of a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri on Aug. 4, 2014. Those words have since become a rallying cry for activism against gun violence and police brutality. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Many students at the walkout wrote “don’t shoot” on their hands, the final words of Michael Brown before his death at the hands of a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri on Aug. 4, 2014. Those words have since become a rallying cry for activism against gun violence and police brutality. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez) (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Two signs are held up during a moment of silence outside the White House's north lawn in memory of the 17 victims of the Stoneman Douglas shooting on Feb. 14, 2018. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Two signs are held up during a moment of silence outside the White House’s north lawn in memory of the 17 victims of the Stoneman Douglas shooting on Feb. 14, 2018. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez) (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A protester sits with her hands facing the White House during a moment of silence at the student walkout against gun violence on March 14, 2019. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A protester sits with her hands facing the White House during a moment of silence at the student walkout against gun violence on March 14, 2019. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez) (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A banner signed by actiivsts is carried down Pennsylvania Avenue during a 2-mile gun control march to the Capitol led by Montgomery County-based student group, MoCo Students for Change. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A banner signed by actiivsts is carried down Pennsylvania Avenue during a 2-mile gun control march to the Capitol led by Montgomery County-based student group, MoCo Students for Change. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez) (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Students dance in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue during a march to the Capitol building. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Students dance in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue during a march to the Capitol building. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez) (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Signs feature cardboard cutouts of targets posing the question "Are we next?" were popular during the March 14 protest, conveying protesters' fears that their school or neighborhood could be next in line for a tragedy like the one that befell Parkland, Santa Fe and Newtown. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Signs feature cardboard cutouts of targets posing the question “Are we next?” were popular during the March 14 protest, conveying protesters’ fears that their school or neighborhood could be next in line for a tragedy like the one that befell Parkland, Santa Fe and Newtown. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez) (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Students chanted "thoughts and prayers are not enough, the Senate needs to step it up," on approach to the U.S. Capitol after a brisk march from the White House. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Students chanted “thoughts and prayers are not enough, the Senate needs to step it up,” on approach to the U.S. Capitol after a brisk march from the White House. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez) (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A protester holds her fist up, welcoming hundreds of students to the rally site on the Capitol building's west lawn. Here, protesters heard from both activists and members of Congress whose constituents have been directly impacted by shootings like Sandy Hook. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A protester holds her fist up, welcoming hundreds of students to the rally site on the Capitol building’s west lawn. Here, protesters heard from both activists and members of Congress whose constituents have been directly impacted by shootings like Sandy Hook. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez) (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Hundreds of students stream into the Capitol building's west lawn on Thursday afternoon, following a long but fast march from the White House through the heart of downtown D.C. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Hundreds of students stream into the Capitol building’s west lawn on Thursday afternoon, following a long but fast march from the White House through the heart of downtown D.C. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez) (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Once at the Capitol, students sat and listened intently as members of Congress and fellow student activists took turns advocating for background check legislation and supporing the protest on the stage. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Once at the Capitol, students sat and listened intently as members of Congress and fellow student activists took turns advocating for background check legislation and supporing the protest on the stage. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez) (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Common across many protesters interviewed by WTOP was a pervasive fear of the next mass shooting coming to their school or neighborhood. Students said the blame would be on members of Congress from both bodies who refused to take action. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Common across many protesters interviewed by WTOP was a pervasive fear of the next mass shooting coming to their school or neighborhood. Students said the blame would be on members of Congress from both bodies who refused to take action. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez) (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Dani MIller, founder and co-president of MoCo Students for Change, addresses students outside the Capitol after a mass walkout from classes on Thursday. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Dani MIller, founder and co-president of MoCo Students for Change, addresses students outside the Capitol after a mass walkout from classes on Thursday. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez) (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A student listens to members of Congress address the walkout outside the U.S. Capitol. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez
A student listens to members of Congress address the walkout outside the U.S. Capitol. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Students from Maryland, Virginia and D.C. joined up for an outdoor rally in the shadow of the Capitol rotunda, emboldened by a new Democratic majority in the House. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Students from Maryland, Virginia and D.C. joined up for an outdoor rally in the shadow of the Capitol rotunda, emboldened by a new Democratic majority in the House. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez) (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Students near the stage on the Capitol's west lawn on Thursday afternoon. The rally, which included Sens. Blumenthal and Murphy of Connecticut, went on for several hours following a march from the White House. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Students near the stage on the Capitol’s west lawn on Thursday afternoon. The rally, which included Sens. Blumenthal and Murphy of Connecticut, went on for several hours following a march from the White House. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez) (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Rep. Ted Deutch, D-FL22, asks students under 18 to raise their hands. "Every one of you with your hands up is about to become a voter," he tells them. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Rep. Ted Deutch, D-FL22, asks students under 18 to raise their hands. “Every one of you with your hands up is about to become a voter,” he tells them. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez) (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A student holds up a poster with the words "never again," a common rallying cry in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting which gained traction in the run-up to the March for Our Lives. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A student holds up a poster with the words “never again,” a common rallying cry in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting which gained traction in the run-up to the March for Our Lives. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez) (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy addresses students in the shadow of the Capitol rotunda on Thursday afternoon. As the junior Senator from Connecticut, Murphy took office in the year following the Sandy Hook shooting.(WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy addresses students in the shadow of the Capitol rotunda on Thursday afternoon. As the junior Senator from Connecticut, Murphy took office in the year following the Sandy Hook shooting.(WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez) (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A student watches speakers address students beneath the Capitol on Thursday afternoon. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A student watches speakers address students beneath the Capitol on Thursday afternoon. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez) (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
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Montgomery County students led hundreds in a mass walkout from schools on Thursday, in a bid for tougher gun laws. Pictured: An energized group of students face the White House with signs supporting increased gun control measures. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
The second iteration of MoCo Students for Change's walkout drew hundreds to the White House before a march to the Capitol, pressuring Congress to pass comprehensive gun control legislation. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Student gathered outside the White House north lawn on Thursday morning, before a 2-mile march to the U.S. Capitol to join Democratic members of Congress in a rally against gun violence. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Though the protest was chiefly organized by Montgomery County student activists, other youth-led groups from Maryland, D.C. and Virginia also participated. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A student with a March for Our Lives hat sits outside the White House during a walkout for gun control from area schools on March 14 — almost one year since hundreds of thousands filled the streets of D.C. in a protest against gun violence. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Many students at the walkout wrote "don't shoot" on their hands, the final words of Michael Brown before his death at the hands of a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri on Aug. 4, 2014. Those words have since become a rallying cry for activism against gun violence and police brutality. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Two signs are held up during a moment of silence outside the White House's north lawn in memory of the 17 victims of the Stoneman Douglas shooting on Feb. 14, 2018. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A protester sits with her hands facing the White House during a moment of silence at the student walkout against gun violence on March 14, 2019. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A banner signed by actiivsts is carried down Pennsylvania Avenue during a 2-mile gun control march to the Capitol led by Montgomery County-based student group, MoCo Students for Change. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Students dance in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue during a march to the Capitol building. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Signs feature cardboard cutouts of targets posing the question "Are we next?" were popular during the March 14 protest, conveying protesters' fears that their school or neighborhood could be next in line for a tragedy like the one that befell Parkland, Santa Fe and Newtown. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Students chanted "thoughts and prayers are not enough, the Senate needs to step it up," on approach to the U.S. Capitol after a brisk march from the White House. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A protester holds her fist up, welcoming hundreds of students to the rally site on the Capitol building's west lawn. Here, protesters heard from both activists and members of Congress whose constituents have been directly impacted by shootings like Sandy Hook. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Hundreds of students stream into the Capitol building's west lawn on Thursday afternoon, following a long but fast march from the White House through the heart of downtown D.C. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Once at the Capitol, students sat and listened intently as members of Congress and fellow student activists took turns advocating for background check legislation and supporing the protest on the stage. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Common across many protesters interviewed by WTOP was a pervasive fear of the next mass shooting coming to their school or neighborhood. Students said the blame would be on members of Congress from both bodies who refused to take action. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Dani MIller, founder and co-president of MoCo Students for Change, addresses students outside the Capitol after a mass walkout from classes on Thursday. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A student listens to members of Congress address the walkout outside the U.S. Capitol. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez
Students from Maryland, Virginia and D.C. joined up for an outdoor rally in the shadow of the Capitol rotunda, emboldened by a new Democratic majority in the House. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Students near the stage on the Capitol's west lawn on Thursday afternoon. The rally, which included Sens. Blumenthal and Murphy of Connecticut, went on for several hours following a march from the White House. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Rep. Ted Deutch, D-FL22, asks students under 18 to raise their hands. "Every one of you with your hands up is about to become a voter," he tells them. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A student holds up a poster with the words "never again," a common rallying cry in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting which gained traction in the run-up to the March for Our Lives. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy addresses students in the shadow of the Capitol rotunda on Thursday afternoon. As the junior Senator from Connecticut, Murphy took office in the year following the Sandy Hook shooting.(WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)
A student watches speakers address students beneath the Capitol on Thursday afternoon. (WTOP/Alejandro Alvarez)

Hundreds of students marched through the streets of D.C. on Thursday in the second installment of a region-wide school walkout demanding a solution to gun violence.

At 10 a.m. Thursday, students from across the area walked out of classes for the sequel to National Walkout Day, a protest for tougher gun laws organized by Montgomery County student-led group MoCo Students for Change.

After a 17-minute sit-in outside the White House’s north gates — one for each victim of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida — students set out for a two-mile march down the length of Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol, determined to push legislators to approve a series of bills strengthening background check requirements for firearms.

Students from Maryland, Virginia and D.C. joined up for a rally in the shadow of the Capitol rotunda, emboldened by a new Democratic majority in the House and the window of opportunity for Congress to deliver on a long year of advocating for gun control, both in the streets and on Capitol Hill.

“Thoughts and prayers are not enough, the Senate needs to step it up,” students chanted on the approach to the Capitol, promising to keep up the pressure on members of Congress from both parties and up the ante on lobbying efforts for comprehensive gun legislation.

The challenges of organizing

MoCo Students for Change first convened in the turbulent weeks following the Parkland shooting. Founded and led by high school students, the group was one of several in the D.C. area answering a call from Stoneman Douglas survivors for lawmakers to take action against gun violence.

For co-president Dani Miller, a senior at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, organizing a region-wide walkout wasn’t easy. But a desire for change and a team effort with her friends led Miller to rally hundreds to the Capitol for the second time Thursday, jumping logistical hurdles.

“Many times, I was convinced this just wasn’t going to happen, that something was going to go wrong because I’m somehow going to mess it up,” Miller told WTOP.

Especially for a high school student, pulling together a massive walkout under the gaze of school administrators and parents is no task for the faint of heart.

Miller considers herself an organized person, but said the demands of organizing have occasionally proven overwhelming. “The logistics are super complicated and messy, and sometimes when I organize, I have no clue how other people have been so successful. It feels like a billion things to remember.”

In organizing this year’s event, Miller said, she overcame challenges including “tedious logistics, spreading the word, talking to press and getting each other excited,” despite the risk of an unexcused absence for walking out of class.

Last year’s far larger March for Our Lives was bolstered by celebrity endorsements, small fortunes in donations and the burning memory of gun violence still festering in the public conscience only one month after Stoneman Douglas.

In the year since, the burden has fallen on smaller student-led groups, including MoCo Students for Change, Students Demand Action NoVa and March for Our Lives D.C., to carry that momentum forward — often entirely on their own, and with limited resources.

But through the power of crowdfunding and with guidance from Youth Empower, the Women’s March’s youth advocacy program, local students provided for a full stage setup, sound system and buses to bring students in from Maryland and Virginia.

“Young people organizing like this is the definition of grassroots, and that’s the true way to make change,” Miller said.

‘We have changed the culture of our country’

For the dozens of school shootings that have shocked the country and then seemingly disappeared from the limelight just as quickly, Parkland struck some gun-control advocates as the decisive moment to take their demands directly to Congress.

One election cycle later, the dynamics are somewhat different. With the Democratic Party surging, a window of opportunity has opened for gun-control advocates — even if the party appears in no rush to turn existing gun rules on their head.

But for MoCo Students for Change, the biggest victory so far has been keeping the conversation going.

“I think the national movement has come so far in a year,” Miller said. “To put it simply, we have changed the culture of our country. We have taken a national and international stage and forced the world to pay attention, to bear witness to our grief and sit with it, no matter how uncomfortable.”

Another feeling persisting well into the new year among students at Thursday’s rally: fear that what happened in Parkland could be in store for their own school.

Several students marched along Pennsylvania Avenue with cardboard cutouts of crosshairs, featuring themselves as the target, and the chilling caption: “Am I next?”

“I believe it’s unfair that people have to fear going to school for their education,” Angelica Reyes, a student at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, Maryland, told WTOP’s John Aaron. “Honestly, school should be something that makes people feel safe. It’s really unsatisfying that kids are being threatened a lot.”

“I’m missing one day of school because hundreds are missing the rest of their lives,” her sign read.

Reyes was among hundreds of students sitting beneath a stage on the Capitol’s west lawn on Thursday afternoon, listening intently as fellow student activists and members of Congress took to the podium to speak out against gun violence.

Among the speakers were Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, two prominent members of the Democratic caucus who have expressed support for H.R. 8, a bill that would mandate background checks on all gun purchases, public or private — one of the key changes gun control advocates have sought in the days since Parkland, Santa Fe and Newtown.

A Senate vote on H.R. 8 is pending, as are two other bills on enhanced background checks — S. 42 and H.R. 1112 — which MoCo Students for Change see as one sign their campaign is having an impact.

To keep the pressure up, Maryland and Virginia students plan to lobby members of Congress in support of gun control legislation. March for Our Lives D.C. has already announced plans to visit Senate offices in the coming weeks to deliver letters from constituents nationwide in support of universal background checks.

“A year ago today, people did not listen to young people nearly as much, people did not care about what we had to say,” Miller said. “Our movement is saving lives. It’s saving our own lives, the lives of our peers and future generations. We are tired of the death, the funerals and the makeshift memorials. We want to live.”

WTOP’s John Aaron contributed to this report.

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