Buffalo community rallies in March for Our Lives
Local high school students take the lead in solidarity march to end gun violence
Survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Feb. 14 shooting Justin Colton and Ryan Walsh rallied with more than 1,000 students and demonstrators at Buffalo’s “March for Our Lives” on Saturday. Colton said the day of the shooting was “just crazy.”
“We need people to actually do something about this,” Colton said.
Students like Colton and Walsh were at the forefront of the rally. The march in Niagara Square was in solidarity with more than 800 marches across the country in response to the Feb. 14 school shooting. Demonstrators gathered to call for “common sense” gun laws, such as universal background checks, no bump stocks and a ban on AR-15 rifles.
“This is about prohibiting the weapons of mass death and destruction and preventing those who should not own a gun [from getting one],” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz at the march. “Our right to live is greater than a person’s right to own any weapon of their choice. We must stop the insanity of this endless mass slaughter of innocent people."
Before the march began, local students led a rally and expressed their concerns about gun violence.
“We have grown up in a world where mass shootings are a regular occurence,” said Georgia VanDerwater, a senior at East Aurora High School. “It is my lack of surprise [about shootings] that has led me to feel ashamed –– ashamed that at these moments where action matters most, all our great country has to offer are thoughts and prayers.”
VanDerwater said she believes too many people think their right to bear arms is more important than a child’s right to safety.
“This is for the 26,000 children killed by gun violence since I was born in 2000. This is our moment to demand change,” she said.
Following the students’ speeches, local lawmakers including Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, Congressman Brian Higgins and Senator Tim Kennedy expressed their support for stricter gun laws, while emphasizing their belief that student voices should lead this movement.
“Today is about listening to the voices of young people,” Brown said.
After the rally, the students marched through the streets surrounding Niagara Square. Protesters chanted “hey hey, ho ho, the NRA has got to go,” “not one more” and “this is what democracy looks like.” The streets and sidewalks were overflowing with protestors displaying brightly colored homemade signs with phrases like “arm teachers with resources, not guns,” “girls’ clothing is more regulated than guns” and “Guns have more rights in America than the LGBT community.”
Soleil Blanchard, a junior at Williamsville South High School, chose to march because she said she doesn’t think it’s right that she does not feel safe at school.
“I don’t think it’s right that unsafe people can get guns,” she said. “Everyone should feel safe at school. People always say bad people will still find guns –– well, it shouldn’t be as easy for them to find the guns.”
Alexis Green, a senior at Niagara Falls High School, has witnessed violence in her community first-hand and she wants it to stop.
“I don’t want to feel unsafe in my school, you know? I’ve even lost family to gun violence right in my car,” she said.
She wants Congress to enact stricter gun laws, although she recognizes why some people in her community would be resistant to gun control.
“I know that it’s kind of different for people who are in urban neighborhoods and they’re like, well I don’t want guns all the way gone because how am I going to protect myself?” Green said. “But we just want stricter gun laws, so we are safe in our homes –– safe everywhere.”