March for Our Lives in partnership with Road to Change hosted a rally in Roosevelt Park on Wednesday to promote gun violence awareness and to encourage young people to vote.
Maggie Byers, the volunteer events and membership lead for Moms Demand Action — a group formed after the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting — said that over 10 people were there registering people to vote. She said students and Moms Demand Action aimed to educate attendees on gun reform policies.
According to Byers, one of the biggest problems leading to gun violence is that people are not required to get background checks — background checks are only required in 18 states.
All federally licensed gun sellers are required to conduct background checks, Byers said, and 40 percent of gun purchases are through non-federal sellers. She said background checks need to be mandatory for everyone.
“Obviously if they're old enough to be shot, then their old enough to have an opinion about this,” Byers said.
Emma González, a survivor of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, said Road to Change decided to come to Albuquerque because of the city’s potential for strong youth leadership. Additionally, she said Albuquerque is in need of youth voter turnout.
González said she hopes to open up a place for dialogue about gun reform and common sense gun law, adding that March for Our Lives has 10 different policies on gun reform.
“The fact that we experienced (gun violence) isn't surprising, because bullets aren't picky. We are out here to create community and get people talking about things that matter,” González said.
According to González, arming teachers is not the answer for several reasons. She said teachers are not paid enough to have to carry a gun and that teachers should not have to carry this responsibility. She added that teachers should never have to consider the possibility of having to shoot down an armed student.
“Shootings happen not only in schools. We can't just arm teachers and say the problem is solved,” she said. “We can't arm the world, and we can't wrap out country in kevlar.”
Teresa Avery, a student attending Bernalillo High School, was one of ten students that worked to create a mural displayed at the event. She said the students drew upon their own experiences with gun violence to create the mural.
According to Avery, one of the best ways to prevent young students from getting ahold of guns is by locking them up.
Each of the students involved in creating the mural have personally been impacted by gun violence, Avery said. They channeled that loss into the creation of the mural.
Several Second Amendment Activists were in attendance at the rally, holding signs and talking to attendees. Robert Shay was with the Second Amendment activists, but said he is not an activist himself. He said the issue does not lie in gun laws, but in society’s attitude, which according to him is the hardest thing to fix, and added that rallies will do nothing.
“I came out here because I want people to understand that I could get an AR-15 in a week so why don't we just outlaw pressure cookers, because people have been killed by that,” Shay said. “We should outlaw mental illness and identify these people before it happens.”
Alfonso Calderon is a Parkland survivor who is now traveling around the U.S. with Road to Change. According to Calderon, there are about 26 different survivors and two buses involved with Road to Change. He said one bus is traveling around Florida, and the other is traveling the rest of the country.
Calderon recounted his experience of the Parkland shooting. Calderon and his classmates hid in a closet for four hours waiting until police finally found them. He said that day changed him forever.
“You never forget the sounds, the smells, the faces. The feeling of waiting in a closet for four hours,” said Calderon.
Calderon has been working constantly since then to make sure that legislative change comes from the shooting. He said he wishes he had a bigger impact on those in power. Calderon said he is reaching to people in communities across the country with Road to Change, but it is harder to reach those that have power.
Blair Dixon, a University of New Mexico student and a lead organizer of Albuquerque March for Our Lives, said most gun violence could be prevented if the right policies were in place.
Dixon said he hopes that this event will spark a dialogue about gun violence and the current climate.
This topic is currently relevant, especially in Albuquerque where minorities are disproportionately impacted by gun violence, Dixon said. According to Dixon minorities are all too often the victims of gun violence because the U.S. doesn't have common sense gun laws that prevent this kind of social injustice.
Megan Holmen is a freelance reporter for news and culture at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted by email at either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, or on Twitter @megan_holmen.