From Abilene To El Paso, Voices From 'March For Our Lives' Events Across Texas
Energized from "March For Our Lives" rallies across the nation, thousands of teens say they’re ready to stay active working for tougher gun laws.
In Texas, children and their parents, students and teachers gathered everywhere from Dallas and Fort Worth to Lubbock and Beaumont.
This weekend's demonstrations were inspired by high school students in Parkland, Florida, survivors of the Valentine’s Day shooting where 17 people died.
Reporters from public radio stations across the state attended "March For Our Lives" events, and heard from organizers, marchers and counter-protesters.
More than 300 Abilineans rallied at city hall Saturday, while two blocks away, the city's convention center hosted a gun show.
Marchers carried signs reading things like, "Arm teachers with resources, not guns.” Some included Bible verses or quoted late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
"I'm horrified by what's going on about guns. And the interesting thing is I own a gun. But there has to be some kind of legislation to stop AKs and all those," said Linda Strother.
Strother is licensed to carry her 9 millimeter in the state of Texas. But she says Congress needs to do more to prevent school shootings.
"I am not against guns. I am against killing children. And I'm against weapons that we don't need on the street. It has nothing to do with whether or not we have a Second Amendment right.”
One of the march organizers, Abilene High School sophomore Rheannon Mathis, says she's already thinking about what's next.
"Students that I've talked to are so ready to get up and lead, and stand up for themselves. There's another walkout happening in April. So that's my next project."
Mathis says, so far, school administrators seem to support the student's efforts.
It’s a short walk from the pink Presidio County Courthouse down the block to Marfa’s school campus. More than 150 community members from across the region, including 30 students, made that trek on Saturday.
Marfa fourth grader Louise Culbertson organized the march with her friends.
“When I heard the news that 17 students died from the Florida school, and I heard that so many people were marching around the world, I wanted to march here to support them,” says Culbertson.
Both Louise and her friend Delia Jones, 12, acknowledge that guns are a regular part of life for many rural Texans. Especially when it comes to protecting livestock.
“It’s shotguns you know, it’s one bullet, and then reload," she says. "It’s not automatically 25 just to kill a skunk.”
Many stressed they were at the march to protest the sale of assault rifles.
School shootings aren’t unfamiliar in the area. In 2016, a high school student in the neighboring town of Alpine shot herself and injured one other. Nine-year-old Eden McHugh was in school that day.
“It was full lockdown. We couldn’t see what was going on,” she says. “And a lot of kids were fooling around like, this is just a drill, no, it was really scary. It got really scary.”
Marfa High School Junior Ana Guerra is worried violence in school is being normalized. She moved to Marfa from Mexico when she was 13.
“All the shootings that happened when I was in Mexico were outside school, they never affect their school. And here, it’s something that you are fearing everyday,” says Guerra. She says she was expecting to feel safer in the US.
It was a really windy day here in El Paso. Like, wind advisory windy. But that didn’t stop hundreds of protesters from gathering in downtown.
Sixteen-year-old Rachel Landis echoed many students’ desire to just feel safe.
“I shouldn’t go to school and feel threatened and have this panic in my stomach every time the intercom comes on,” she says, “hoping it’s not a lockdown and I won’t have to hide in fear for my life.”
Landis says there isn’t a lot of gun violence in El Paso. But since the shooting in Parkland, there have been threats at her school. So many, says fellow classmate Graciela Blandon, that students aren’t allowed to carry backpacks anymore.
“And it has really affected the entire mindset of the student population,” Blandon says.
The rally featured a musical performance, complete with a live rendition of Selena’s “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom.” It also included a special guest speaker: El Paso native and Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke.
In Texas, says O’Rourke, “so many of us have that story in our lives of going hunting with our moms or our dads, of growing up with guns in the house and having responsible ownership of those guns. This should be the state that leads the country in insuring that while we protect the Second Amendment and the rights that we enjoy there, that we also protect the lives of the people in our lives.”
Protestor Raul Amaya was surprised by the large turnout. “It’s amazing ‘cause this is a very passive community,” he says. “Not a lot of involvement normally in politics. So this is very different for El Paso.”
A handful of counter-protestors hung to the side. Some, like Joe Clayshult, had AR-15s slung across their chests.
"I was kinda torn on whether or not to bring a rifle," says Clayshult. "But I thought if people see a rifle out here by somebody who's not aggressive towards them and very friendly, maybe we could help people understand that it's an inanimate object. It's no big deal"
Eighteen-year-old Giovanni Mula agrees gun violence is a problem, but doesn’t think new gun restrictions are the solution. “Me personally, more people wouldn’t agree with me, but I’d say either arm teachers, add more security in schools, or allow students to carry their hunting rifles and shotguns.”
Bill Zeeble, Heather Claborn, Sally Beauvais and Mallory Falk contributed to this story, which was produced as part of the Texas Station Collaborative, an initiative that connects the newsrooms of Texas' four largest public radio stations: KERA in North Texas, KUT in Austin, Texas Public Radio in San Antonio and Houston Public Media.