Chilly winds circling the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka threatened to rip poster board signs from numb fingers and carried the shouts of voices young and old as a crowd of hundreds congregated on the steps outside to push for gun control reform.
Samantha Inscore, junior in education at Emporia State, was one of the main organizers of the event in Topeka. Inscore said she began wondering if she would someday be faced with the decision on whether she would be willing to take a bullet for her students.
“I soon found this reality rapidly approaching me in the wake of the Parkland shooting,” Inscore said, referencing the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida which resulted in 17 deaths. “With the motivation and inspiration of Emma Gonzalez and of the MSD team, I realized that this didn’t have to be the reality that I was facing.”
Inscore then organized the event to call for a unified movement, encourage people to register and vote and demand that legislators pass gun control legislation.
“We don’t want our lawmakers to ignore our cries for help any longer,” Inscore said.
The rally on the steps of the capitol brought together people of all ages. Christine Potter and her family attended the march at their children’s request.
“Our kids wanted to come, and we wanted to show our support for the kids,” Potter said. “And we think there needs to be better run regulation to protect our kids.”
Potter’s daughter, Lilia, is a sixth grader at Landon Middle School in Topeka.
“I am really upset about what all has been happening,” Lilia Potter said. “It’s really sad how kids are dying. I just don’t feel very safe anymore. There needs to be a change, and I thought that if I came here it could definitely help.”
The speakers of the event frequently spoke directly to the children and teens in the crowd. Some of the speakers were teenagers theirselves.
Julia Howell, senior at Topeka High School, called on her peers to fight for change.
“I’m not just pleading for my life, I’m pleading for the life of generations to come,” Howell said. “So, I have just one last message for teenagers: Just because our adults have failed us doesn’t mean we are letting our next age group fail as well. Do not let anyone diminish your fight or your passion because our generations deserve to survive past the classroom. This is our time now.”
To accomplish the change they are fighting for, Damien Gilbert, state president of the Kansas Young Democrats, called for American youth to register and vote in local, state and federal elections, including midterm elections.
“We are the largest voting block in the history of the United States, and it’s time we made it felt,” Gilbert said. “It’s time to send a message to the nation that this is our country now, that we are the change that we have been waiting for and that we will make this a safer world for us and future generations to live in. On March 24, we march for our lives. On November 6, we vote for them.”
While the March for Our Lives rally called for legislators to pass more restrictive gun laws, the Kansas House of Representatives prepared to continue crafting their own legislation.
On Tuesday, the House will hold a hearing on HB 2789, which pushes for the creation of the Kansas Staff As First Emergency Responders Act. The SAFER Act would permit school districts to arm teachers.
Following the Parkland shooting, the possibility of arming teachers to prevent school shootings came to the forefront of gun control discourse as a potential solution, one which President Trump seemed to support.
“Armed Educators (and trusted people who work within a school) love our students and will protect them,” Trump tweeted. “Very smart people. Must be firearms adept & have annual training. Should get yearly bonus. Shootings will not happen again – a big & very inexpensive deterrent. Up to States.”
However, some teachers have flat out rejected the proposal.
“That is a terrible idea,” Ellen Backus, fourth grade teacher in Topeka public schools, said. “I really don’t have anything else to say about that. That’s a terrible idea.”
Arguments against arming teachers with firearms are rooted in questions of funding.
Martha Boatright, early childhood educator at Community Action Head Start in Topeka, said allocating funds to provide teachers with weapons and training would come at a cost to money that could buy classroom supplies or go towards teachers’ salaries.
“I know that across the country, teachers have to buy their own supplies,” Boatright said. “They’re underfunded, underpaid, overworked. We do not need to be spending our money on getting guns for teachers or providing training for teachers.”
Boatright also argued that teachers have enough on their plates without juggling firearms and training.
“We have enough on our hands to worry about with testing, with over-large class sizes,” she said. “We do not need to be responsible for killing, potentially, a student.”
However, the SAFER Act would not only permit schools to arm their teachers, but it would also place some blame on districts who may choose not to arm their teachers in the event of a shooting with injuries.
“So, if there is a school district that does not want to arm teachers but has armed security guards, for instance, if there is an incident on their campus in which injuries occur, they have to rebut the assumption that they are negligent for not having armed teachers in that district,” explained Heather Ousley, civil rights attorney and member of the Shawnee Mission Board of Education.