LITTLETON, Colo. (Reuters) – Like most of her friends at Columbine High School, Abigail Orton had not yet been born when a shooting attack at her school in a Denver suburb left 15 people dead and horrified the country.
She was raised in a world in which students have regular active-shooter drills, as their parents once had fire drills, and she joined Wednesday’s national student walkout against gun violence to help prevent massacres, such as the one at Columbine in 1999, from happening again.
“I grew up in a community still haunted by the tragedy from 19 years ago. I can see the haunted looks in the eyes of teachers and parents who went through it,” said the 16-year-old sophomore.
“We want to make changes so no one has to have that look ever again,” said Orton, one of thousands of students who took part in protests across the country on the one-month anniversary of the rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 students and faculty were killed.
Columbine is one of more than 2,800 U.S. schools whose students participated in an #ENOUGH rally, with about 250 students walking out of class for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. local time.
The walkouts were the latest action by a student-led gun control movement that emerged from the Parkland massacre. It has already helped pass new restrictions on weapons sales in Florida, though enthusiasm for action in Congress appears to be fading.
“What happened here and at Parkland should never happen again,” said Leah Zundel, 15, a sophomore at the school of 1,664 students, who took part in Wednesday’s walkout. “We shouldn’t have to go to school in fear for our lives.”
Few teachers or staff who were present for the April 20, 1999, attack still work at Columbine High, but the man who served as its principal at the time returned on Wednesday in solidarity with the student walkout.
Frank DeAngelis, who retired as Columbine’s principal in 2004, said he considered the student-led movement “phenomenal.”
“If the adults won’t do anything about it, they will,” he said.
A wide array of policy prescriptions have been put forward to stem mass shootings since the Florida attack. That state’s legislature has raised the minimum age to buy any sort of gun to 21, from 18, in recognition of the fact that the accused 19-year-old shooter used a legally purchased AR-15 assault-style rifle in the rampage.
Democrats have called for a ban on that style of weapon, which has been used in four of the five deadliest mass shootings by a single gunman in U.S. history. Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have advocated arming teachers to provide a stiffer defense of schools.
Columbine attack survivor Evan Todd said he saw little sense in restricting gun rights, which are enshrined in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as an attempt to stop shootings and would rather see some school staff armed.
“Criminals don’t pay attention to laws,” said Todd, who was a sophomore when he was wounded in the shooting and is now a 34-year-old construction worker. “It’s maddening that students are left as sitting ducks.”
Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis