LITTLETON, Colo. (Reuters) - Colorado teenagers kicked off a voter registration rally on Thursday, a day ahead of the 19th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School, when students nationwide plan to walk out of class in the latest demonstrations against gun violence.
Seizing the momentum of a movement driven by survivors of the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the walkouts and drive to sign up voters are aimed at pressuring U.S. politicians to enact tighter restrictions on gun sales in the run-up to November’s mid-term congressional elections.
Organizers said Thursday’s “Vote for Our Lives” event in the Denver suburb of Littleton, home to Columbine High School, where 13 people were gunned down in 1999, was to feature speakers including survivors of the shootings there, in Parkland and elsewhere.
Mass shootings have occurred with shocking frequency across the United States in recent years.
“This movement is the next step in the series of pressure points placed on politicians to take action,” Vote for Our Lives said in a statement. “We walked out, then we marched, and now we vote.”
The new wave of activism is a response to the call for action from survivors of the latest slaughter, when a gunman killed 17 people at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Students from more than 2,600 schools and institutions are expected to walk out of class at 10 a.m. local time on Friday, according to organizers who say the action has three goals: to hold elected officials accountable, promote solutions to gun violence and encourage student participation in politics.
Columbine has not held classes on April 20 since the massacre, a school district spokeswoman said, so there is no Friday walkout there. Instead students are encouraged to take part in community service projects.
Organizers have asked students to wear orange, the official colour of the campaign against gun violence, and to observe a 13-second silence to honour the victims killed at Columbine.
This latest national rally comes more than a month after tens of thousands of U.S. students from more than 3,000 schools participated in the #ENOUGH National School Walkout to demand that lawmakers seek tighter gun control regulations.
It also follows hundreds of “March For Our Lives” rallies in cities across the United States on March 24 that were some of the biggest U.S. youth demonstrations for decades, with hundreds of thousands of young Americans and their supporters taking to the streets to demand tighter gun laws.
Dudley Brown, president of the Colorado-based National Association for Gun Rights, said the gun-control movement seeks to have the government take away rights, “precisely opposite of what the civil rights activists did in the 1960s.”
“The main objective of these students is to ban firearms completely, and confiscate the firearms of law-abiding Americans,” Brown said in a telephone interview. “We will oppose them at every step.”
Activists have lobbied state and federal lawmakers and even met with President Donald Trump to call for new restrictions on gun ownership, a right protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Columbine became synonymous with mass shootings after two teenagers rampaged through the high school on April 20, 1999, fatally shooting 12 students and a teacher and wounding more than 20 others before killing themselves.
Additional reporting and writing by Gina Cherelus in New York; editing by Dan Grebler, G Crosse and Tom Brown