Utah students plan to march for new gun laws in the wake of the Florida school shooting

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) L-R Students, Isaac Reese, Mathew Davis, Elizabeth Love, Sophie Davies, Wilhelmina Graff and Aurora Allen, meet in Sugar House to organize the upcoming March for Our Lives, urging gun restrictions in the wake of a Florida school shooting. Monday, Feb. 19, 2018.

Elizabeth Love was born in April 2000, just one week shy of the first anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre.

The West High School senior and students her age have lived their entire lives in the era of school shootings, and she’s found the responses to each new tragedy to be lacking.

“After each mass shooting, I feel so discouraged,” Love said. “Because it seems like nothing is going to be different.”

But in the aftermath of last week’s massacre at a high school in Parkland, Fla., where a former student killed 17, Love said she has never felt more optimistic.

Following the lead of the surviving Florida teens, Love and other Utah high school students plan to rally at the Utah Capitol in late March as part of a national campaign for gun regulation dubbed the March For Our Lives.

“I’m so glad it’s finally happening,” Love said. “I think that this is something that has been building quietly for a long time, and it’s all coming out now.”

Love met Monday with a group of 15 Utahns to plan the protest, most of whom were fellow students from Skyline, Brighton, Judge and West high schools.

Previously strangers, Love said they found one another online after the surviving students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School announced their planned march in Washington on March 24.

The Florida students speaking out and taking a leadership role, Love said, are what differentiates the reaction to Parkland from past school shootings.

During and after the shooting last week, Parkland students broadcast their experiences and thoughts through social media, and have not shied away from criticizing government leaders for perceived inaction on gun violence.

In addition to the March For Our Lives, organizers of the Women’s March are calling for a national school walkout March 14, and groups have suggested an additional walkout April 20 on the anniversary of Columbine, the 1999 school shooting in Colorado where 13 died.

Mitt Romney, a former Republican presidential candidate, delayed the announcement of his campaign for Senate in Utah after news of the Florida shooting broke. On Saturday, he told The Salt Lake Tribune that the time for discussing gun regulation is now, when the issue is “very much in front of the national mind.”

“We need to give this real consideration,” he said. “What is the best way to protect our kids?”

Isaac Reese, a Brighton High School senior and one of the organizers of the upcoming Utah march, said the mood at his school after last week’s shooting was one of sadness and frustration, but not surprise.

News of another school shooting, Reese said, has simply become “part of our normal routine.”

“My generation is becoming desensitized to it, and it’s not something that we should be desensitized to,” Reese said. “Most people don’t bat an eye anymore at it. They’re just so used to it, and they’re just so used to nothing ever happening.”

Reese is the founder and president of his school’s Young Democrats club, and he said he has encouraged voter registration among his classmates.

He said events like the March For Our Lives are necessary because older generations have failed to take action, so it’s up to the next generation of voters to fix a broken system.

“We can only pray so much,” he said, referring to oft-repeated phrase “thoughts and prayers” offered by lawmakers in the wake of tragedy. “That doesn’t help any more. That’s not going to do anything.”

Reese said he personally would like to see a ban on assault-style weapons, like the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle used in Parkland and other recent mass shootings. He also supports an expansion of background checks for firearm purchases, and restrictions on gun ownership for individuals with a history of violence or who are barred from commercial aircraft travel.

He questioned why the rules for firearm ownership and use are so lax compared to the laws related to vehicle operation or the transportation of food.

“There’s way more restrictions on safer products than there are on guns,” Reese said. “It’s just ridiculous.”

Love would like to see a repeal of the Dickey Amendment, which prohibits the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from researching gun violence, along with the “gun-show loophole,” which allows individuals to buy firearms from private sellers on the secondary market without undergoing a background check.

“We are looking for solutions that are common sense and that gun owners can support, because gun owners don’t like gun violence either,” Love said. “Nobody wants to do anything too radical. This passion is just that we want to do something.”

Love, who turns 18 this year, said she is excited to vote and expects other Utahns her age to cast ballots in large numbers this year. She said her peers’ use of online platforms has made school shootings resonate in ways that weren’t possible before.

“Gun reform is going to be something that is led by kids our age,” she said. “We just need to keep people talking about it, and that’s what our generation is going to do. It’s something that we are never going to shut up about until it’s fixed.“

Utah’s March For Our Lives is tentatively scheduled for March 24 in Salt Lake City, to coincide with sister marches in Washington and across the country. Organizers are working to obtain permits, Reese said, and finalizing a walking route and speakers.

Reese said the intention is to begin near West High School, the Utah Board of Education or another school setting and march to the Utah Capitol.