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In Riverside, Thousands March Against Gun Violence

Benjamin Purper

Cities around the Inland Empire held their own local versions of the March For Our Lives, an anti-gun demonstration led by high school students.  KVCR's Benjamin Purper went to the march in downtown Riverside on Satruday, and has this report.

A crowd of thousands gathered in front of the Riverside Historic Courthouse on Saturday, March 24th, for the “March For Our Lives” - a nationwide demonstration for gun control in response to the deadly mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.

A group of student organizers from local high schools led the march, which started with a rally on the courthouse steps. Students spoke about stricter gun reform, the political influence of the National Rifle Association, and the need for young people to register to vote in the 2018 midterm elections.

Each student speaker was introduced by their name and age during various mass shootings – 6 years old during Virginia Tech, 11 years old for Sandy Hook, 16 years old during Orlando, and so on.

Annie Davis is a student at Riverside Polytechnic High School, and one of the student organizers of Saturday’s march. For Davis, gun violence has hit very close to home.

Credit Benjamin Purper / KVCR
On the lawn next to the Riverside Courthouse, an American flag is planted in the grass for each of the 17 people killed in the Parkland shooting.

“My sister was in the Las Vegas shooting, and one of my former classmates, Angie Gomez, was killed there,” she said. “So it’s definitely closer than we think it is, and it shouldn’t have to affect you for you to care. I was desensitized to it until it happened to my family and in my home, and that shouldn’t have to happen.”

Police officers estimated the crowd at about 2,500, though some reports put the number at over 4,000. Demonstrators held signs, passed around petitions, and even registered people to vote. On the lawn next to the courthouse steps, 17 American flags were planted in the ground – one for each person killed in Parkland.

Ayana Johnson is a high school senior at Riverside Poly, and the final speaker at the rally. Before she spoke, she was introduced as being 17 years old during the Parkland shooting.

“This sad pattern [beginning] with Columbine was 19 years ago, and a year later on that exact date April 20th, I was born,” she said.

Johnson used her platform to encourage young people to vote – and to give a warning to politicians who don’t take notice.

“Stand out, shout out, and vote. Because in the next 19 years, if you as politicians, as parents, as adults don’t work with us, not only will we run you out, we will vote you out,” she said.

Credit Benjamin Purper / KVCR
One marcher holds a sign that reads, "Don't Mess With Seniors Or The Press."

Stephen Reed came to Saturday’s march as a counter-protester. Reed says that banning assault-style weapons is a bad idea, because the purpose of the 2nd amendment was to allow the people to overthrow the government if necessary.

“The Second Amendment was intended so that people could have the same weapons as the government, in case we need to fight them,” Reed said. “In case the government becomes too tyrannical, we can defend ourselves against them.”

Reed is skeptical of the claim that the purpose of this movement isn’t to ban all guns. He thinks that banning assault-style weapons is a slippery slope.

“Once they take those then they’re going to go for revolvers, then bolt-action rifles. They want an all-out gun ban, and I’ve had many people just today tell me that,” he said.

Student organizers, however, said they do not want to confiscate all guns, or repeal the Second Amendment. They say they want common-sense gun legislation that makes their schools safer, like strong background checks, a ban on assault-style weapons like AR-15s, and mandatory prosecution for the improper storing of firearms.

Credit Benjamin Purper / KVCR
The view of the crowd from the steps of the Riverside Courthouse.

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