Raleigh “March For Our Lives” demonstrators demand action from lawmakers in combating gun violence

Raleigh “March For Our Lives” demonstrators demand action from lawmakers in combating gun violence

Hundreds gather for March for Our Lives rally on June 11 in Raleigh. (Photos by Aminah Jenkins.)

Hundreds turn out as part of a national day of action in response to recent mass shootings

On Saturday June 11, hundreds of activists with the group March for Our Lives in North Carolina gathered in Raleigh, part of more than 450 demonstrations nationwide to protest gun violence and mass shootings.

The protests were held in response to the recent mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York.

Student speakers

At the Raleigh event, Ashley Ju, a rising senior, spoke candidly about the impact gun violence and mass shootings threats has had on her education. “From what I’ve been seeing from representatives and other elected officials, they just don’t care about our lives as much as they care about the NRA’s money,” she stated.

Ju explained that the answer to gun violence in schools is not  to be found in clear backpacks, metal detectors or having more law enforcement in schools “like it’s a prison.”

“What we need is action,” Ju said. “What we need is for mortifying school shootings to not be so normal.”

Ju called for politicians to rise above political affiliation, saying they should represent their constituents.

Laura McDow, a senior at Carolina Friends School, had attended a protest four years ago. “I’m now 18 and, unfortunately, I’ve been in this fight for my whole high school career,” she told the crowd.

She graduated the following day, but opted to miss some of the festivities because “some students are missing the rest of their lives.”

McDow explained that her generation has been dubbed “the lockdown generation” because of the prevalence of lockdown drills schools have had to prepare students for mass shootings.

Despite this, McDow said she “swears it ends with us.”

North Carolina elected officials

Several North Carolina elected officials were also in attendance and spoke at the rally. Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam discussed how gun violence isn’t just limited to mass shootings. She recounted the Chapel Hill murder of three of her friends in 2015 that sparked her initial involvement in activism, entry into politics and her recent run for the 4th Congressional District seat in the 2022 Democratic primary.

Allam and her husband are expecting their first child in eight weeks. However, she explained that they were concerned about their daughter’s safety.

Representative Marcia Morey and Representative Julie von Haefen were among those to address the crowd.

“Instead of thinking about the joyous moments that we are going to be having with our daughter, we are considering and thinking about the fear that we have of what it’s going to mean to send her to public schools,” she said.

Allam told the crowd that her job as county commissioner is to “fill the gaps of funding that our state legislature current leaves for our public schools.”

“I can assure [you] that not a single educator, custodian, [or] cafeteria worker has ever asked us commissioners to fund firearms,” she said. Allam called for legislators to take action and pass gun reform legislation.

State Reps. Marcia Morey (D-Durham) and Julie von Haefen (D-Wake) also addressed the crowd.

Rep. Morey discussed 10 “sensible, common sense gun safety laws” she said had been introduced in the General Assembly over the last four years — including proposals to enact a North Carolina “red flag” law and distribute fee gun locks.

“Is any of that radical?” she asked the crowd.

Morey also criticized GOP legislative leadership for its refusal to consider any of the bill and its recent response to the Uvalde tragedy. In particular, she pointed to a a recent statement by state House Speaker Tim Moore in which he said that “the thing that you want to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good person with a gun.”

“We are energized because of the youth of March for Our Lives that are leading us,” she added.

Responding to a “gut punch”

Fourteen-year-old Elissa Copeland and her mom, Khristina Copeland, drove from Clayton to attend their first gun violence protest.

Elissa held a sign with green Converse tennis shoes on it to honor Maite Rodriguez, a student killed in Uvalde who was so horrifically wounded that she could only be identified by her distinctive shoes.

Khristina’s sign listed all of the school mass shootings that had occurred from the time she was in high school until now. She described the Uvalde shooting as a “gut punch.”

“As a parent, I should feel safe sending my children to school and we don’t,” she explained. “It’s gotten so bad everywhere that you don’t—can’t even feel safe to get your groceries.”

As a student, mass shootings have changed Elissa’s experience at school. “You never know if someone’s going to pull out a gun [from] their backpack while you’re trying to work on a math equation,” she said.

Both believe that more comprehensive gun reform is needed.

“It’s frustrating that the people who have the power to do something just say ‘oh, well thoughts and prayers,’” Khristina stated.

All speakers had a similar call to action: vote.

As McDow succinctly put it, “You’re either with us—trying to save lives—or you’re out of a job. See you in November.”

Aminah Jenkins is a rising senior at Meredith College in Raleigh and a summer intern at NC Policy Watch.