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Tucson teens march for their lives

click to enlarge Mark Kelly: “The people we elect to office, they’re gonna care about you showing up here and marching in the streets of Tucson.... But what they’re gonna care about as much is what all of you do on the day after this march.”

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Mark Kelly: “The people we elect to office, they’re gonna care about you showing up here and marching in the streets of Tucson.... But what they’re gonna care about as much is what all of you do on the day after this march.”

The group of teens in a science class room at Tucson High are not there to talk biology. They're talking about how fear of being shot hinders their studies.

"We want regulations on guns," said Tucson High junior Vivian Reynoso, president of the school's Human Rights Club. "We want to not be afraid to come to school and worry that someone is going to come in with a gun and shoot us."

Perhaps living in a time when school shootings are no longer shocking has matured these teens. Like many students who endured the Feb. 14 school shooting in Florida, they are having no problem articulating what they want.

Some want stricter gun regulations. They all want the government to take action that sees results. They'll be sharing their ideas of what that action should be at the March for Our Lives rally scheduled for March 24.

"We're fighting for this, and this is what we want," Reynoso said. "We're gonna keep fighting until they give it to us."

March for Our Lives—a nationwide rally for better gun regulation and school safety measures—was started by student survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, after 17 people were killed by a former student with a legally-purchased AR-15. The central march is in Washington D.C., and could be the biggest march, nationwide, since the Women's March, with close to 600 cities signed up at marchforourlives.com.

Press filled the Tucson High classroom, on Friday afternoon, where about 30 teens from a number of local high schools, including Flowing Wells, University High, Marana High, City High and Tucson High, candidly faced the media's cameras and spoke of their experience, growing up dealing with gun violence in schools.

Formed by the Tucson High Human Rights Club, with the help of Tucson High educator Marea Jenness, thre group was meeting for the third time to plan the march. Only this time, they invited the press.

University High sophomore Sharmila Dey tells the group that after the Florida shooting, her teachers gave the class a talk about what to do in the event of a school shooting.

"Just the fact that we have to talk about that is ridiculous," she said. "Even being worried about that is not something we should have to do as students trying to get an education at school.... And we should not have to be the ones who say, 'this needs to stop.' But I think the students' voices are gonna be the most important in making the change."

Dey started getting politically active during the 2016 presidential campaign. But this is the first time she feels like an activist. And she thinks the fact that students are leading this charge on gun violence is critical.

"You hear a lot of adult opinions all the time," she says. "With the rise of social media, student opinion is becoming a lot more valued."

For anyone who saw Florida school shooting survivor Cameron Kasky confront Sen. Marco Rubio during a televised town hall — not mincing words, unafraid of backlash — or survivor Emma González shouting for action through her tears, can't deny that these teens have a courage untarred by the pitfalls of adulthood.

And it seems their efforts paid off.

On March 9, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed into law the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. The bipartisan gun legislation includes raising the age to purchase a firearm to 21, banning bump stocks, giving law enforcement power to seize firearms from people deemed mentally unstable, a three-day waiting period on all gun sales, more than $69 million for mental health assistance in schools, and allows for some teachers to be armed.

The gun control measure was the first Florida passed in over 20 years and was supported by more than 60 GOP lawmakers with A ratings from the NRA, which filed a lawsuit only hours after the bill was enacted, saying raising the age to buy a firearm to 21 was unconstitutional.

Mark Kelly, who has been fighting for tougher gun laws alongside his wife Gabrielle Giffords ever since the Sandy Hook mass shooting, also spoke at the Tucson High press conference. His main piece of advice was to become politically active and—when they can—vote.

Giffords survived being shot in the head in Tucson's own mass shooting, in 2011. Six people died. Kelly and Giffords will be marching on March 24 in Washington D.C.

"Voting matters, and it matters a lot," Kelly said. "The people we elect to office, they're gonna care about you showing up here and marching in the streets of Tucson, or where ever you decide to do that. But what they're gonna care about as much is what all of you do on the day after this march, the week after this march, the month after. And then it's about really showing up and having your voices heard in an election."

More by Danyelle Khmara

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