SHERIDAN — About 60 people, with Sheridan Junior High School and Sheridan High School students leading the way, participated in the March for our Lives demonstration Saturday afternoon on Main Street. The march in Sheridan opposed gun violence in schools and was one of more than 800 demonstrations — including at least four in Wyoming — that took place across the United States and the rest of the world.
Students and adults alike marched for about an hour, chanting phrases like, “Protect kids, not guns,” and “We are the future, we are the change.”
Many people driving by honked in support and others voiced disagreement. One driver said, “Guns save lives, people are the killers.” SJHS eighth-grade student Grace Harper, one of the students marching in front, gave a brief speech and thanked everyone for showing up.
“We are the change America needs,” Harper said.
Fellow eighth-graders Megan Hodges and Grace Linden were two more students who had been talking for several weeks about marching against gun violence in schools.
“School is supposed to be that safe place where you’re supposed to learn,” Hodges said. “We’re in the eighth grade. We should be preparing for high school, not a school shooting.”
The students said they were inspired by students from Parkland, Florida, where a school shooting last month killed 17 people. Harper, Hodges and Linden are three of several SJHS students planning an April 20 school walkout — the anniversary of the 1999 school shooting in Columbine, Colorado — and have had a few conversations with teachers and administrators. They said most teachers have supported the potential walkout, but some disagree. The students are still determining the duration of and plan for the walkout.
Hodges and Linden aren’t in favor banning guns entirely.
“I’m OK with guns but I don’t think that kids should feel unsafe in their schools,” Hodges said.
“I say hunt animals, not kids,” Linden said.
Hodges and Linden haven’t talked specifically about the issue during class but have spoken with classmates who disagree with their views.
“There has definitely been some backlash,” Hodges said. “We want to respect other people’s’ opinions because it’s OK to have different opinions.”
SHS senior Maggie Pierce marched to oppose arming teachers.
“If you have a problem with people getting shot, you shouldn’t add more guns to the situation,” Pierce said.
Pierce said marching is a way to make student voices heard.
“Parents are supposed to represent us, but if the parents don’t know what we want, then they can’t represent us well,” Pierce said. “I can’t vote until November but as soon as I can, I’m going to.”
David Huebner marched in support of “common-sense gun laws” like tighter background checks on gun customers and raising the minimum age required to purchase assault-style weapons. Huebner said it was inspiring to see students leading the march.
“It’s good to see the youth taking on this issue because they’re the ones that are being affected by these school shootings most directly,” Huebner said.
Huebner explained that he doesn’t want all guns banned.
“Most [gun usage] is well-placed,” Huebner said. “It’s for hunting and for sport, and I think that there’s a false argument being put on the American people that one side believes in no guns, one side believes in guns.”
Ted Lapis organized the march. Lapis has lived in Sheridan since 1980. His wife taught at Central Middle School in Sheridan when a shooting occurred in September 1993 and injured four students.
Lapis said significantly more people showed up than he expected and he was thrilled to see student participation. Lapis has used guns since he was a young child and still owns several guns. He reiterated that he is not against all guns but opposes the legalization of assault-style weapons.
Similarly, former CMS math and history teacher John Best owns guns but marched in support of keeping guns out of schools. Best was teaching when the 1993 shooting occurred and said he still has flashbacks to the day.
SJHS media specialist Julie Weitz marched to support the “incredibly brave” students. Like Pierce, Weitz doesn’t think teachers should be allowed to have guns at school.
“If our focus is taken away because we have to practice using guns and thinking about where we’ll store our gun, how we’ll use our gun, whether we can access it in a chaotic situation — that just seems to me that there are too many variables,” Weitz said.
Weitz said teachers and staff have had a few conversations on the topic but not a formal conversation with administrators.
After the march, conversations took place between people with different opinions.
David Kuzara performed a demonstration to show how a BB gun design can closely resemble a rifle. He believes students don’t know enough about the issue and wanted to educate them about potential solutions.
“I agree with the students marching or petitioning to help solve this problem,” Kuzara said. “What I don’t agree with is this march particularly focused only on the banning of guns and not all of the other things that should be done … There are so many more things that could be done that are not about guns themselves.”
Kuzara said other solutions include better communication between law enforcement agencies and banning bump stocks, which allow quicker firing from semi-automatic weapons and were used during the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people in October 2017.
Kuzara is a National Rifle Association member and owns several guns that he uses for hunting and home security. He believes people determined to cause harm will find a way to do so.
“In my opinion, they could raise the age to buy a rifle to 30; they could ban all magazines bigger than three rounds; and they could ban all semi-automatic weapons, but because there are so many out there and the (easy) availability, it would make no difference whatsoever with school shootings,” Kuzara said. “Anybody who was going to do it would find a weapon.”
Kuzara doesn’t think raising the minimum purchase age would help, either.
“If a kid is 18 and can’t buy a gun until he’s 21, he’ll just get a 21-year-old friend to buy him one, or he’ll get one on the street, or he’ll get a fake ID or some other thing,” Kuzara said.
He holds a strong opinion about school walkouts. Kuzara believes the parents of students who participate in school walkouts should be fined $1,000 and forced to do 100 hours of community service.
“They’re the ones that raised their kids to do it,” Kuzara said.
After his demonstration, Kuzara had a lengthy, civil discussion with several students. He believes the marchers should talk more with people who hold differing views.
“One of the reasons I came down here was I figured that everybody that showed up here would be of the same mind,” Kuzara said. “You can’t gain information if everybody is all saying the same thing. I figured I could bring some dialogue, which I did. We started actually talking. Otherwise it was just all people saying exactly the same thing.”
The march was civil yet passionate, as Hodges emphasized.
“I’m here to have my voice heard even though I’m a kid, because we’re the ones getting shot,” she said. “Kids aren’t just kids. We’re more educated about things than [adults] think we are. Kids deserve to be heard, too.”