2018-03-02 / Community

High school students plan gun protest

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — As anger and frustration continue to percolate over the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, local students are ending their voice to a national call for greater gun controls.

On March 14, students at Kennebunk High School will join their peers in at least five other schools across Maine, walking out of class for 17 minutes — one minute for each life lost in Parkland when former student Nikolas Cruz, 19, allegedly entered the building with an AR-15 rifle and opened fire, reportedly as part of a revenge scheme against an ex-girlfriend.

The KHS walk-out is being organized by students Molly Hetzel, Elona Bodwell and Allison Gordon.

“The students in Florida have inspired so many other high schoolers to take a stand in our communities,” Hetzel said in a Feb. 25 email. “The chance to walk out of our school on March 14 for 17 minutes lets us exercise our rights as students, and gives us the opportunity to show that we want change.

“I hope that this movement will spark a change in congress and legislation and in the way we, as a society, approach the idea of gun safety and control,” Hetzel wrote. “I hope those changes can then allow us to feel safe both in and out of school. We’re all tired of being afraid.”

Even as Parkland students rallied outside the Florida state house on Feb. 21, legislators inside rejected a proposed ban on many semi-automatic firearms and large-capacity ammunition magazines.

President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has promised to outlaw so-called “bump stocks” — devices which can modify many semi-automatic rifles to mimic a kind of machine gun type of firing pattern. A bump stock was not used in the Parkland shooting, but was reportedly part of the arnsenal used by alleged gunman Stephen Paddock in the Oct. 1, 2017, Las Vegas shooting that killed 58. In recent days, Trump has appeared to walk back an idea floated to raise the minimum age to buy AR-15 type weapons to 21. Maine Gov. Paul LePage has rejected that notion.

Meanwhile, congress has made no overt steps toward greater gun control, partly out of deference to the second amendment protection to keep and bear arms, and partly because some maintain that additional laws would have done nothing to prevent many, or even any, of the mass shootings experienced in recent years nationwide.

“I don’t think we need more gun control, I think we need better idiot control,” Republican Senator John Kennedy, of Louisiana, has said.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has called for “universal” background checks on gun purchases, saying anything less would be an “abject failure and dereliction of duty,” following the Parkland shooting. However, to date, the strongest measure said to be on the table in congress is a bill referred to as “Fix NICS,” which would require more be done to include various records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

One thing that definitely won’t happen locally, at least in the near term, is as effort to put guns in the hands of local teachers, a solution floated by Trump and others.

“Recent media reports about providing teachers with firearms or placing armed trained volunteers, veterans, or off-duty officers in our schools, have many parents and teachers worried,” RSU 21 Superintendent Katie Hawes said in a Feb. 23 open letter. “None of these ideas are permissible under current Maine law. In Maine, the only people who are allowed to possess a firearm on school property are police officers while on duty.

Hawes went on to say that while the school district is not officially supporting the planned student walk-out, it is making allowances for it.

“RSU 21 is not encouraging, supporting or facilitating this walk-out,” she wrote. “While our teachers may be tempted to join the walk-out either in protest or support, doing so would disrupt and interfere with the operation of our schools. With that said, our local law enforcement agencies stand ready to provide an increased presence on that date. Students will not be disciplined for peaceful protest as long as it does not disrupt the school environment. They will be held responsible for making up any missed work.”

A number of incidents have arising across the nation and in Maine since students returned to school following the February break in the wake of the Parkland shooting, including an alleged social media threat made by a Cape Elizabeth student that closed the high school there on Monday and prompted mobilization of South Portland’s SWAT team. The 17-year-old student said to have made that threat was arrested and charged with terrorizing.

According to Hawes, there has been an increased police presence at KHS this week as a precaution.

“In the coming weeks, we are expanding our collaborative efforts with Kennebunk and Kennebunkport Police Departments and the York County Sheriff’s Office by providing two increased training opportunities,” Hawes said, noting that “key emergency management personnel” will be sent to a training course specifically designed to “evaluate and identify security weakness” in public schools buildings.

“We are also exploring a few different professional development resources that would help local law enforcement officers and RSU 21 employees better identify potential warning signs and further align our prevention, identification, and intervention procedures,” Hawes said. “Once we have a designated resource, we will notify parents and community members in effort to create a common understanding and dialogue.”

There have been numerous claims that the Parkland shooting was emminitely preventable. Cruz is said to have been flagged repeatedly as a potential danger to the school community, including more than two dozen reported infractions of school behavior policies between 2012 and 2017 and 39 claimed visits to his home by deputies of the Broward County Sheriff’s Department between 2010 and 2017.

The fact that something like the Parkland shooting could well happen here has not been lost on local residents, nor did that feeling originate with that most recent mass casualty crisis.

At the Feb. 22 meeting of the Kennebunkport Board of Goose Rocks Beach resident Bill Lefler asked the board to adopt a resolution in support of the KHS students and their upcoming protest.

“The subject is very important to us and believe me, we have already been talking about it for more than a year,” board chairman Patrick Briggs said, saying there have been ongoing talks between the town, Police Chief Craig Sanford, and RSU 21 officials, “to address this kind of an issue, because, let’s face it, this is the world we live in.”

“So, I don’t want you to think we are reacting only at this point in time, because this has been a subject we have discussed before. We are trying to make sure it doesn’t happen here, believe me,” Briggs said.

Staff Writer Duke Harrintgon can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

Return to top