Dion McGill panicked when his phone lit up Wednesday with a news alert about a school shooting in Florida.
His daughters go to school in the Sunshine State — two hours from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — but the alert didn’t say where the shooting happened. After he confirmed they were safe, he started thinking about what he could do to create solutions for the country’s gun violence problem.
“We have to come together and realize that maybe what we’re doing isn’t working,” said McGill, a teacher and a coordinator with the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence’s student voices program. “We have to show lawmakers better gun control is what we want and their lobbyists won’t stop us.”
Authorities say Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old former student at Stoneman Douglas, shot and killed 17 students and staff at the school on Feb. 14 with an AR-15 rifle, the same model used in mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, San Bernardino, California, Las Vegas and others. Laws in Florida made it easier for Cruz to get a rifle than a handgun.
McGill and others who want gun reform contend “common sense” measures like stricter background checks and making sure civilians don’t have access to AR-15s should be no-brainers.
Many at the march in downtown Chicago on Sunday said the National Rifle Association’s bankrolling of senators and representatives is blocking reform and costing the country more lives.
The rally featured speeches from Jason Saini, who started the “call to action” after the shooting; Brenna O’Brien from Chicago Lead and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, one of the main organizers of the march; Jaquie Algee, from Women’s March Chicago and SEIU; Jen Diamantos, a science teacher with the Illinois Education Association; and Lauren Tucker with Indivisible Chicago.
Algee, whose son, Kenneth, was killed in 1995, said students shouldn’t have to march for their lives.
“Shame on us that we have not done any better,” Algee said of the Florida high school shooting. “More families are hurting and in pain and suffering at the loss of their children who simply got up and went to school and should’ve returned home.”
Marchers were led by student activists from Federal Plaza to Daley Plaza, then to Trump Tower chanting “Vote them out.”
Kathleen Rodger came to the march for her brother, who was shot and killed 29 years ago. She’d like to see more mental health support, more social workers and better education initiatives to “keep kids out of harm’s way.”
“All of those issues — better mental health support, better background checks and more reforms — are related,” Rodger said. “I’m not out here to take away anyone’s guns. If you want to hunt, that’s fine. But killing children? Come on.”