Students in Aspen will be taking to the streets Wednesday afternoon to advocate for stricter gun control. They are joining a nationwide day of action, but instead of walking out of classes, they will host a march after school, and hope the whole community will join.
A handful of students are gathered in the Aspen Middle School art room after school, coloring, planning and processing. When a gunman killed 17 people at a high school in Florida, it raised a lot of questions for them.
"I just thought, 'why?'" said 10-year-old Bates Kurkulis. "Why would someone do something like that?"
She imagines a future where no one is ever able to do that again, and for her, that means more gun control. Bates and her 12-year-old brother Felix are frustrated that more restrictions aren’t already in place to prevent gun violence.
“The whole government is just ignoring the fact that they can actually help this," Felix said.
So Felix and Bates wanted to do something themselves. They saw that their cousin, who lives in Minnesota, was going to be part of a walkout on March 14, one month after the tragedy in Parkland, Fla. They wanted do something similar, and they weren’t the only ones.
Mia Wells is a seventh grader. She feels shaken every time she hears about a school shooting.
"It's such like an innocent place, a school, but then again, it seems like a hostile environment as well," she said.
Mia, Felix and Bates are all in different grades. They don’t know each other that well, but they all have a desire to speak up about gun control and school safety. They turned to assistant principal Molly Tiernan for guidance and a little help planning.
"I'm supporting our students to try to channel all of their energy into doing something positive, into giving them a voice," Tiernan said. "They came up with the idea of having a march.”
The school is not sponsoring the march; it’s happening after classes end Wednesday. Tiernan is here on her own time, too, because she says it’s important that these kids feel empowered to take action.
“It’s turning into a student movement,” Tiernan said.
The students held an initial meeting to see who was interested, split up into committees and got organized. One committee will spend lunch hours handing out postcards that kids can send to their elected officials. Another group is working on T-shirts and, of course, there’s the march.
The kids have invited their friends and families, made announcements on the PA system at school, and created tons of signs. They read things like, "Enough is enough! More gun regulations now" and "We may be little in size, but we are big in numbers."
Elijah Goldman is an eighth grader who’s spent a long time stenciling "Protect kids, not guns" in thick black lines across a white poster board. He, too, is working to understand what happened in Florida last month.
"It just seems like common sense that there's no reason these guns should be on the streets," Elijah said.
He has real expectations for what gun control laws should look like.
"I think that it would be much safer if guns were limited to things where every time you shoot a round it has to be reloaded," he said.
Elijah and the others gathered here have a lot of ideas: Make people pass difficult tests before they can buy a gun. Raise the minimum age. Have gun-owners register the exact location of where they will keep their weapons. And definitely, they agree, do not arm their teachers.
Mia Wells doesn’t think guns belong in schools, especially not around small children.
“If a kindergarten teacher had like a Glock in the classroom, I don't think that would be the safest thing," she said.
Mia, Elijah, Felix, Bates and others are taking their ideas to the streets, and they want the community to join them. At 4:15 p.m., they’ll march from Aspen Middle School to Paepcke Park. Students will give speeches, which they’ve been preparing for more than a week. Still, Mia has tempered her expectations.
"My goal is definitely to do something about it," she said. "But I don't think banning assault rifles is going to happen because one small town did a march."
It’s a baby step, she said, but one that shows the students in Parkland, Fla., that the whole country is listening — and standing alongside them.