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Arizona students protest gun violence in meetings at Capitol

Posted at 9:12 AM, Mar 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-14 20:01:00-04

Arizona high school students gathered on campuses and met with lawmakers at the state Capitol in Phoenix on Wednesday to protest the kind of gun violence that recently killed 17 young people in Florida.

The students said they want Arizona legislators to ban "bump stocks," which can be attached to a semi-automatic rifle to allow the gun's action to mimic automatic fire. They also want lawmakers to expand background checks for people buying guns and more school counselors to help students facing mental health crises that can lead to violence.

At a House session later in the afternoon, several lawmakers recognized student activists sitting in the gallery. They read statements the teens had written about why they are advocating for gun reforms and praised them for their civic engagement.

"We hear you. Your life counts and your safety matters," said Democratic Rep. Randy Friese, a surgeon who treated victims of a 2011 Tucson shooting that critically wounded former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords.

One of that shooting's survivors, Arizona State Rep. Daniel Hernandez, also applauded the students from the House floor.

"Because of actions of young people ... I am hopeful we will actually be able to do something about gun violence," Hernandez said.

The Tucson Democrat was an intern for the then-congresswoman and rushed to her aid after she was shot in the head.

Arizona Rep. Rusty Bowers was among the state lawmakers who held meetings earlier Wednesday with the students who traveled to the Capitol on their spring break.

Bowers agreed with the young people that controls were needed for bump stocks, said 17-year-old student Jordan Harb. But he said the legislator "is still not understanding of the emotional needs we have."

The students wore white T-shirts painted with gun violence statistics as part of a national action aimed at drawing attention to the shooting of high school students in Parkland, Florida.

With the Phoenix high school district and some others in the area on spring break, 17-minute walkouts were held at a scattering of schools. Tucson High School students sat in front of their school before walking out to call for gun safety.

In Phoenix, one elementary school had planned a "day of caring" to support its older students who were participating in the nationwide walkout.

Principal Mike Duff of the K-8 Madison Traditional Academy said many seventh- and eighth-graders were taking part.

About 400 boys from the Jesuit-run Brophy College Preparatory Academy and some 1,000 girls from Xavier College Preparatory private academy next door held separate outdoor events.

The name of each teen killed in the Florida shooting was called out as the Brophy students stood silently.

Student leader Nik Kirk, a 17-year-old junior, said the event was organized through the school's Advocacy Club to let the teens make a statement about gun violence.

Kirk told his classmates that they "cannot stand idle as others' schooling becomes endangered and fatal." He asked: "Does an AR-15 echo the message of Christ?"

Brophy President Adria Renke said she was proud of the students, adding that fostering advocacy is part of the school's mission.

At Mountain Ridge High School in suburban Glendale, students walked to the football field where some stood in silence and others chanted "enough is enough." There also was a protest at Apollo High School in Glendale.