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Over 350 gather for Oxford’s March for Our Lives rally

Students from Oxford High School and other supporters gathered in front of City Hall this morning with one message – gun violence in schools must end.

 Over 350 people attended the Oxford March for Our Lives event, one of 844 other marches nationwide in solidarity with students from Parkland, Fla. who marched on Washington D.C. this morning. Other nearby marches were held in Tupelo and Hernando.

The event was organized by OHS students Anna Claire Franklin and Livvy Cohen, with groups Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Wise Women and the League of Women Voters helping coordinate.

Franklin was one of the first student speakers at the event. In her speech, she called for changes in legislation to protect children in schools.

“We are here because no child should have to form an emergency escape route from their school, or be forced to imagine a scenario in which their closest friends could be ripped away from this life in front of them,” she said. “We are here because there is a generation of students who have grown up in fear of a completely preventable tragedy – and we’re tired of it.”

Demonstrators of all ages carried handmade signs with statements written on them, including, “Am I Next?,” “I teach the generation that will save us all,” and “Enough.”

Merrill Nordstrom, a mother of three, and her daughter Kate, 10, attended the march.

“This morning, we’re driving here, and my 10-year-old is telling me what their procedure is for when there’s an active gun shooter,” Nordstrom said. “It made me very emotional. She shouldn’t have to do that.”

According to Everytown Research, an estimated 3 million children witness gun crimes every year. Erica Jones, the leader of the local Moms Demand Action group, presented the crowd with other statistics about gun violence in and out of the classroom.

“Since Sandy Hook, 5 years and 3 months ago, 7,000 children have been shot to death,” Jones said. “This is a uniquely American problem. 4 to 14-year-olds are 14 times more likely to be shot to death than any of our peer nations, and young people 15 to 24 are 23 times more likely to be shot to death.”

OHS junior Cooper Thomason based his words on what he learned after seeking out local experts to learn more about the subject. Thomason said he spoke to psychiatrist Tim Kelly, OPD Chief Joey East and Bryan McCloskey, with the Oxford FBI office.

“I learned, as a high school student, after talking to three people, there are multiple solutions we can actually take to accomplish this,” Thomason said. “It’s a shame our politicians can’t realize this or are too corrupt to even do so.”

Thomason quoted facts and statistics about the way Mississippi handles the treatment of those with mental health disorders, protects schools and the purchase of firearms. All of these areas, he said, are where the state is currently failing in terms of preventing gun violence.

In Mississippi and other states, neither police officers nor psychiatrists can commit a person who could be a threat to themselves or others to a mental facility. One event Thomason cited was the case of James Holmes, who murdered 12 people at a Colorado movie theatre in 2012. Prior to this act, Holmes had spoken to three different psychiatrists, all of whom said he was violent and a danger to others, but were unable to commit him to a facility.

Another statewide issue presented was the lack of school resource officers or SROs. OHS has two SROs, but other schools, mainly in rural areas, do not.

“Why are these school resource officers important? They’re important because most shooters are known as “nonconfrontational,” he said. “Just having an SRO provides a heavy deterrent to school shootings in the first place.”

Last week, school resource officer Blaine Gaskill stopped a shooting in Maryland that claimed the life of one student and injured another. 

The crowd marched around the Square, chanting “People over Profits” and “Hey, Hey, NRA, how many kids have you killed today?” They were escorted by OPD officers and members of the mounted patrol.

Greg Patton, one of the marchers, said he was impressed by the viewpoints presented and the work the students put into educating themselves on all aspects of the issue.

“I think they were very eloquent and well-spoken. They expressed kind of a balanced approach,” Patton said. “It’s not just about gun laws, it’s about significant issues that need our help and that we as a state need to recognize. They’ve really done their homework, researched this thing and educated the crowd.”

After the march, volunteers from the League of Women Voters set up voter registration tables. According to Jones, the most powerful weapon people have is their political voice.

“Vote. If they’re not making the laws you want, then vote them out,” she said. “Once [politicians] are there, don’t let them rest. Put their numbers in your cell phones and call. Insist that they save our children.”  

The next nationwide demonstration will be a National School Walkout on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. No time has been set, but a Change.org petition has been signed over 80,000 times.

For more information on March for Our Lives, visit http://marchforourlives.com.