Missoula students from Hellgate High joined a nationwide student walkout today on the 19th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, where 13 people died. Missoula’s walkout started at about 1:30 at the Xs sculpture at the north end of Higgins Avenue downtown. About 50 people were there when it started.
I met Ally Fradkin, Erin Szalda-Petree, Jack Catmull and Lywyn Clark Gaynor, who make up the band Carpool. Carpool was asked to entertain the crowd.
"We’re always down to play music," says lead guitarist, Erin Szalda-Petree. "I think we all would have shown up anyway. It’s a great opportunity and a great cause."
They told me they really liked that Missoula’s walkout was organized mostly by their own peers – regular high school and middle school kids.
Here’s drummer Llwyn Clark-Gaynor:
"On a lot of topics youth are kind of shut out and we aren’t allowed to talk as openly. This is a situation where right now where you are interviewing youth. You aren’t interviewing adults here even though they are here. That’s very important because it means that adults are listening to the children now."
According to Szalda-Petree it’s good that the adults are listening, because she says gun violence is a really serious generational issue.
"Hey, is our school next? When we’re trying to just learn and get an education, is this when we’ll be killed? It’s not a fun feeling and I think it happens to a lot of kids," Szalda-Petree says.
Ally Fradkin says she loves going to school and adds, "Everyone I really appreciate – my teachers and my friends and my peers – I care a lot about them. To have this amount of violence be in a place like a school, it's second to home and so it's just hard to think about. That’s why we’re here."
The group told me they don’t think these student gun protests are just cool, or fashionable things to do. They say they want to send a clear message to the politicians who will vote on gun legislation: "Listen to us," they say. "We’ll be voting soon," and are watching you.
"Because it is youth-led, it also means that if parents are behind the youth and they're supporting them, that means that gets those votes. And if those people go out to vote, it will make it an immediate impact," says Llwyn Clark-Gaynor.
Not everyone who turned out today supported implementing tighter gun regulations. Curtis and Christopher Davey quietly stood across the street. Christopher had his AR-15 slung over his back. Some Hellgate students approached them to politely ask some questions, like ‘why are you here’?
Curtis Davey, Christopher’s dad says school shootings aren’t a firearms issue, they're a mental health issue.
"We’re not meeting the needs of the mentally ill. We’re not diagnosing very well. The mental health industry diagnoses very well but their treatment is lacking."
Davey says the government guarantees Americans certain rights, "And there are factions within the political spectrum that want to remove firearms – in this particular case, it's a certain type of weapon. Once that happens that’s the camel’s nose under the tent."
"While students walked out of class in Missoula, that wasn't the case in Helena. When it came time for the protest at Helena High School, students were mostly a no-show.
Students at Helena High School were expected to join their peers around the nation this morning by walking out of their classrooms on the anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting that killed 13 people in 1999. But when the time for the protest came, students were mostly a no-show.
One student walked out of Helena High School Friday morning at 10 o'clock, and after doing a brief interview with a local TV station, the student left the area where others were expected to protest gun violence in memory of the Columbine shooting.
"I can’t help but wonder where all the students are. I didn’t see one," says Chuck Anderson, of Helena.
Anderson says he showed up to support the student walk out after seeing that Helena High School was listed among other schools on the national school walkout website participating in the protests. He says he hopes students aren't losing motivation after turning out for the March For Our Lives event earlier this year.
Nancy Perry also expected kids to come walking out of the school. She brought a clipboard to the school and, along with another woman, planned to register students to vote.
"It may not have been announced ahead of time enough," Perry says. "Maybe they didn't hear about it or maybe there is stuff going on in school right now. I’m not sure. There are so many issues that impact these kids. And a lot of them are 18 and they’re old enough to vote. And it's really important that they start out as soon as they can start voting."
The local Helena Youth Against Gun Violence group, which organized a previous walkout for the March For Our Lives event, told MTPR today that they had no plans to join the protests going on around the nation today.
A spokesperson for the group said there were various reasons for this, including that today was senior skip-day and the group was working on other projects.
The Helena Youth Against Gun Violence is hosting a community outreach event this evening in the Lewis and Clark Library. The group also plans on hosting what they’re calling a "Town Hall For Our Lives" next Friday at Helena Middle school in which all Montana’s congressional candidates have been invited to attend.