Gun control in Benicia: High School students hold indoors walkout, Elementary student leaves the building

Repost from the Benicia Herald

Benicia High students rally on campus for gun control

In lieu of a walkout, Benicia High students organized a rally in the quad during Access Period to pay tribute to the victims of school shootings and call for stricter gun control measures. (Photo by George Johnston)

Unlike at the thousands of schools across the country, zero students walked out of Benicia High School during the National School Walkout. Instead, students held a rally in the quad during Access Period to give speeches on preventing future gun violence and improving their school.

Senior Carson Rendell began the rally with a moment of silence for the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland Fla. on Feb. 14 He then delivered the first speech of day, focusing on the many victims of school shootings and how easily he believed gun violence could be prevented with stricter gun control laws like stronger background checks and bans on assault weapons.

“When will we realize this is a problem?” Rendell asked. “When will we take a step back and look at the fact that in this country there are 300 million people here, and there are over 300 million people with guns? That in states like Florida, 18-year-olds do not have to go through a background check to buy an assault rifle and and on average 96 people are killed each day by guns?”

Kaitlyn Tang gave the second speech, calling for her fellow students to take action so that young people would not have to fear attending school.   Joseph Perez read from a poem he had written, titled “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Politician.”

Lisa St. Pierre and Lulu Wilson delivered a joint speech, saying America was on the catalyst of change and that the current generation will not rest until this change has
happened. The duo also called for more support of mental illness and health care, and criticized arming teachers.

“We have the right to come to school without being shot,” St. Pierre and Wilson said. “We shouldn’t come to school with the fear of death every time we hear the fire alarm and hear someone speak on the loudspeaker or even when someone opens our classroom door. This is not a matter of right and left. This is a matter of life and death.”

Shannon Sweeney, the senior class president, laid out the legislative rules of the Never Again movement: banning assault rifles, expanding background checks, passing gun violence restraining laws and stopping the militarization of police. She then made a call for civic engagement.

“We can make a change,” Sweeney said. “In 2012 in the general election, only 38 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds voted. We need to bring this change to the ballot box. We must demand it from our legislators. We are the future voters. We will not accept their complacency or corruption, and if it continues we will replace them.”

Upon completion of Access Period, students returned to class.

However, one Benicia Unified School District student did walk out: at Matthew Turner Elementary School. Earlier in the morning, Emma Willeford’s mother explained, without going into much detail, why people were protesting and asked Emma if she would be interested in joining the national movement. According to her mother, Emma thought it over and agreed to walk out of school.

Around 10 a.m. Emma was picked up by her mother and met outside by her stepsister, who was a holding a protest sign. For 17 minutes, Emma Willeford waited outside as a part of the walkout. When the 17 minutes were completed, Mrs. Willeford signed Emma back into school. Emma’s teachers were understanding of her choice, according to Mrs. Willeford.

Mrs. Willeford said she was very proud of Emma.

Benicia will next be participating in the March for Our Lives 10 a.m. Saturday, March 24 at the foot of First Street.