April 23, 2018
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Maine students and teachers rally for tighter firearm regulations

By Alex Acquisto, BDN Staff

A few dozen students, teachers and parents from Down East and central Maine rallied in Bangor on Wednesday in favor of tighter firearm regulations.

The demonstration came the week after 17 students and teachers were killed in one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Around the country, sympathizing students have held protests, calling on lawmakers to act swiftly.

[Survivors of Florida high school shooting lash out at Trump]

“We’re the ones being affected by this. Our generation has the most to lose if this continues,” 15-year-old Finian Burns, a freshman at Mt. Desert Island High School, said outside the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building on Wednesday.

Burns wants to see assault weapons banned, background checks tightened and loopholes closed that allow firearms to be sold to people with histories of mental illness or domestic violence, he said.

Michelle Merica, a first-year 10th- and 11th-grade English teacher at Mt. Desert High School, said, “it’s a very sobering and sad reality when I tell myself that I will take a bullet for any of my students.”

[New critics emerge for lack of action on guns: Students]

“All I’m proposing is that children are not afraid of being killed when they go to school,” Merica said. “It seems pretty common sense to me.”

Members of Mt. Desert Island’s Indivisible chapter, an activist group, organized the protest.

“The young people have gotten in the driver’s seat, and they’re the ones saying, ‘Enough,’” group member Jill Weber said. “We, as a group, don’t want to lose that energy.”

Julia Rall, 10, a student at Brewer Community School, held a sign that read, “Children should not have to save our own lives!”

Rall, who had to finish a book report Wednesday afternoon, was protesting with her mother, Josie Ellis, who organized the local chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Ellis said it was “horrific” that school shootings are a common enough occurence that her daughter and others have to be taught how to hide from a gunman in their classrooms.

[The lives lost in the Parkland school shooting]

Ellis, who said she does not usually participate in protests, feels disillusioned with the lack of legislative action and said she will continue to protest until something happens.

“There are common sense legislative solutions,” she said. “The legislators need to protect Julia and her friends.”

These protests, many have said, are a response to how normalized mass shootings have become in the U.S. and are part of an effort to keep the country focused on fixing the problem.

“It makes me angry. Every time it happens, it’s shocking, but each time it’s less shocking,” said 17-year-old Dawson Burnett, a junior at MDI High School. “It shouldn’t be like that, but at this point, it’s such a common thing. It’s a national tragedy for a few days and it’s on the news, but then everyone kind of passes it on.”

Students across the country, and in at least 10 schools in Maine, are also planning a mass walk-out on March 14 for 17 minutes to honor each of the slain Florida victims.

But Burnett said he thinks that students leaving class for an indefinite period of time may may be necessary.

“I think it takes something drastic like that to make a difference sometimes,” he said.

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