Student organizers of a Helena march against gun violence are planning to relocate the March 24 event after discovering that a march supporting gun rights was scheduled for the same time and location.
Helena students will march to protest gun violence as part of March For Our Lives, a planned demonstration in Washington, D.C., with satellite marches around the country, after 17 people were killed in a school shooting Feb. 14 in Parkland, Florida. Parkland students have reignited the national gun debate by organizing and calling for action in the two weeks since the shooting, including the national demonstration. The Helena Youth Against Gun Violence, a new group, is organizing the Helena event.
A Helena man who believes Montana values are not being represented at the national level has organized a separate event dubbed March For Our Guns on the same day.
Clara McRae, a junior at Capital High School, is one of about 10 students organizing March For Our Lives in Helena. She said the event was originally scheduled to be held on the Montana Capitol grounds on March 24.
However, March For Our Guns organizer Brent Webber already applied for the permit to host his event on the steps of the Capitol that day. A spokesperson for the Montana Department of Administration confirmed that Webber applied for the permit and said it would be approved.
The spokesperson said the agency has also communicated with Helena Youth Against Gun Violence, but a permit for that group has yet to be filed. There isn’t a policy prohibiting two events from taking place at the same time on the Capitol grounds. But McRae, who had heard only recently heard about the conflict, said March for Our Lives will apply for a permit at a different location.
March For Our Lives
McRae said the student group has held an initial meeting. So far, members have discussed the possibility of supporting policies on mandatory training, safer gun storage and waiting periods to buy guns.
"We're not trying to take away people's guns," she said.
McRae said the student group is trying to avoid taking a partisan stance in hopes that everyone will feel comfortable sharing their opinions. She said the group will also focus on registering people to vote ahead of the primary and midterm elections.
The student group is also planning to hold a school walkout to protest gun violence on March 14 in conjunction with Carroll College. The walkout will last for 17 minutes, one for each victim in the Parkland shooting, and then students will return to class. McRae said students were working with their administrators and school resource officers to organize the event. Helena Public Schools Superintendent Jack Copps said he would support a walkout as long as it is organized.
Students both locally and nationwide have experienced pushback from adults who either don’t take them seriously or accuse them of being manipulated. McRae, who will miss the primary election but will be 18 in time to vote in the midterms, said she isn't surprised by the criticism directed at her group.
“Historically, it shakes out that way,” she said. “But we’ve been the ones affected by it. We’re the lockdown generation.”
On the March For Our Lives national website, the mission statement starts with “Not one more. We cannot allow one more child to be shot at school.”
March For Our Guns
On the March For Our Guns website, the mission statement starts with “Not one more. We cannot allow one more gun to be taken from our hands.”
Webber said he created a guns rights event after he saw the March For Our Lives website and thought it didn’t match up with values of people living in rural places.
“I looked at the media attention they had for March For Our Lives … and if you look at their mission statement it doesn’t speak for all kids and it definitely doesn’t speak for Montana values,” Webber said. “These kids need a voice.”
Webber asks marchers to leave their guns at home in the rules posted online.
“In addition, many civil rights organizations have taken positions that they do not welcome armed march approaches to dissent. Respect that position if you would like to maximize the outcomes of this event,” the website says.
Webber said he thinks guns are a way of life in Montana and while he wants kids to be safe, he wants all perspectives included.
“I don’t think there’s a better place (than Helena) to start a discussion in Montana,” he said. “(Kids) grow up, they live with weapons. I think there’s a possibility some of those voices aren’t being heard.”
Webber said some gun control measures, such as banning bump stocks, would be a good thing. But he said he doesn’t support an assault weapons ban or raising the age limit to purchase guns.
“I think the argument really needs to be more about social change and doing other things rather than taking guns away from people,” he said.
The discussion on assault weapons, particularly a ban on AR-15s, could lead to the government banning more guns, he said. Webber said he’s worried all semi-automatic weapons will be lumped in together. He used the example of a Remington 750, a hunting rifle that is also semi-automatic.
“That’s very similar to what people are assigning as AR-15s,” he said. “If they start outlawing AR-15s, that’s also going to relate to other rifles that people currently own in Montana.”
Webber is also calling for more education on how people use guns safely and what use they have, particularly in Montana. He is supportive of more security measures in schools, but didn’t specify what that would look like.
Webber’s rules call for respecting dissenting opinions.
Webber said the final details, including the time of the march, will be announced after a meeting with Capitol staff and police.