Students across the nation plan to keep up the pressure for tougher gun laws with school walkouts and rallies Friday, including an event that's expected to bring hundreds of people to downtown Raleigh.
Students are planning to walk out of class at 10 a.m. Friday in more than 2,000 events nationally, including several in North Carolina, as part of the National School Walkout. But once the school day ends, organizers of the Why Wake Walks event plan to mobilize students from different Wake County high schools to come to Raleigh to show state lawmakers they're serious about pushing for gun reform.
"We want to put pressure on legislators to show that we're serious," said Lily Levin, 17, a junior at Cary Academy and one of the organizers of Why Wake Walks. "Once we get old enough to vote, we're going to vote people out who support the NRA (National Rifle Association) and oppose gun reform."
But F. Paul Valone, president of Grassroots NC, vowed that gun proponents would fight any efforts to restrict gun rights.
"Anything they introduce in the North Carolina General Assembly, I assure you we will kill," he said.
Students have organized events nationally since the Feb. 14 school massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that left 17 people dead. Students walked out of class on March 14, and events were held during March 24 March for Our Lives rallies.
This week's events are meant to coincide with the anniversary of the 1999 school massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, when two students killed 13 people.
Sanzari Aranyak, 18, a senior at Broughton High School in Raleigh, said the Why Wake Walks event came about after organizers of individual school protests got together to plan a countywide event.
Legislators "already know that students at separate schools are very passionate about gun violence," said Aranyak. "But they're seeing that people are willing to work together."
The event starts at 4 p.m. at Halifax Mall near the grounds of the state legislative building. In conjunction with the walk, Broughton students plan to assemble at Fred Fletcher Park at 3 p.m. to walk 1.2 miles to Halifax Mall.
U.S. Rep. David Price is scheduled to speak at the event, where people will talk about Why Wake Walk's platform, which includes comprehensive background checks for all gun purchases and banning "bump stocks," attachments that can make semi-automatic weapons fire faster. The platform also says the group wants "semi-automatic weapons illegal to civilians," but Levin said they're talking about weapons like AR-15 rifles and not handguns..
"We're not here to repeal the Second Amendment," Levin said. "We just want to reform the gun laws in place. The research shows that the U.S. has more gun deaths than other first world countries, and it's directly correlated to these gun laws."
Organizers will also be registering people to vote at the event. There's been a push nationally to organize young people to become a force at the ballot box in November and beyond.
"We need to balance civil disobedience with civil engagement," said Sheel Patel, 17, a senior at Panther Creek High School in Cary and an event organizer. "We want to make sure everyone engages by registering to vote."
The event will include information booths with several left-leaning groups that promote gun control laws, including Planned Parenthood, Moms Demand Action, Carolina Jews for Justice, North Carolinians Against Gun Violence and the N.C. Council of Churches.
Patel said organizers reached out to several right-leaning groups and pro-gun groups about participating but either got a no or no response.
“We’re not going to endorse any side," Patel said. "We’re going to endorse the truth.”
But Valone of Grassroots NC said events like those on Friday are "being organized by leftist organizations who have found out how to weaponize children." Valone said lawmakers shouldn't "pander to emotionality" when it comes to calls for more gun control laws.
"I have confidence that our General Assembly will stick to facts and logic and reject this leftist agenda," he said.