Students march for their lives in Central Square

On March 24, Central Square in Keene was packed with students, local politicians, clergy, parents and children, educators and more. They gathered on the brisk and breezy Saturday morning to protest for gun law reform, specifically to prevent school shootings.

Colton McCracken / Senior Photographer

Colton McCracken / Senior Photographer

The Keene version of the national March for Our Lives was filled with honking horns from nearby drivers among speeches about the necessity for “common sense” new gun legislation.

Many of the attendees were young students from the local schools.

The event had a Facebook page, which Keene High School (KHS) junior Hannah Landry organized. There was also a walkout on March 14 about the school shooting issue.

According to The Keene Sentinel, more than 150 KHS students participated in the walkout, which was held in solidarity with other school protests nationwide.

Two of the attendees from Keene High School were juniors Elizabeth Squires and Julia Ditri, who arrived at the event early.

Neither Squires nor Ditri were nervous about the rally. They had already participated in the walkout the previous week and knew that they had the support and encouragement of many friends and teachers. Ditri said her environmental studies teacher, Julia Imbarrato, went over what to do in the situation that a shooter is in the school, which inspired her to walk out and rally. Ditri said, “Kids should feel safe going to school,” and shouldn’t be worried about violence.

Ditri also said Keene High School is divided about 50/50 on the issue of gun control, and many on both sides are not aptly educated about the issue. Squires said she knows some students who went to the march in Washington, D.C., and that she was slightly nervous about the safety of that event.

Prior to the event, Keene Police Chief Steve Russo said he was not particularly worried about the rally being unsafe. He said, “There are trepidations about any public event,” but he said this event seemed successfully planned.

Event organizer and KHS junior Hannah Landry met with the police department and discussed the event.

Russo said he gave Landry tips to keep the event safe and also mentioned that the police department may have had to close streets off if there were too many attendees to fit in Central Square. The Keene Police Department ended up not needing to close streets. Russo said he didn’t want to overwhelm the event with police presence.

Parents of KHS students were at the event too, including the Coordinator of Education at the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at KSC Tom White. He said he came to the rally for his son, Connor, and to “stand against the ridiculous and uninformed misunderstanding of the second amendment.”

White also commented on the prevalence of military-grade guns among everyday Americans. He said to him, civilians are separated from the military, and that “the military return their weapons when they get back.”

Nicole Wood, a KHS alumna and KSC sophomore, attended the event with three of her friends. She said she decided to attend because she “wants to see policy change with legislation that reflects the current capacity of modern-day weapons.”

A few other KSC students attended. Some were education majors themselves, like Madison Ballou, who is in her final year. She’s student teaching in Westmoreland, New Hampshire.

She said while she isn’t sure of the opinions of KSC students because she’s so busy with student teaching, the teachers she works with in Westmoreland are passionate about the issue. The gun issue “hits home for me,” she said, “because I’m a third generation educator.”

Bill Hay hosts a show with WKNH at KSC and is the boys’ tennis coach at KHS. He had seen some of the Keene High School kids talking about the rally planned. Hay is a Vietnam veteran, so he said he has a “particularly harsh view about gun control.”

He said he disagrees with the current legislation and that the Second Amendment was designed to provide the United States with a well-regulated militia. He added that he believes there’s currently nothing well-regulated about guns right now.

Hay reiterated that he was glad to be at the rally, especially because it was led and organized by KHS students. “Those students aren’t going away,” he said. “The issue is not going to fade away. It’s got a life of its own now.”

Abby Shepherd can be contacted at  ashepherd@kscequinox.com

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