Sarasota student activists teamed with current and former students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday to encourage young people to vote and continue the conversation of gun control after 17 were killed at the Parkland high school in February.
Nearly 200 people packed into the Jack J. Geldbart Auditorium at Selby Library, with 30 in an overflow room, to listen to thoughts on how the youth movement is focusing on gun violence. The panel was made up of Riverview High School students Katy Cartlidge, Reagan Fox and Hailey Landry as well as March For Our Lives activists Delaney Tarr, Sarah Chadwick, John Barnitt and Brendan Duff.
State Rep. Margaret Good, D-Sarasota, moderated the event.
Questions were geared toward how the movement began and where they see its future. To them, it's all about having open, respectful discussions about gun policy, especially with those who may not agree with their 10 talking points on "how to save lives," which include funding gun violence research and a nationwide ban on semi-automatic assault rifles.
Tarr, a Parkland survivor, said that at the start they didn't know a lot about gun policy.
"It was a lot of learning on the fly," she said. "We had to educate ourselves and quickly."
Speaking with legislators was a big part of that. But they learned a lesson in politics in a visit to Tallahassee, where a vote to even discuss a weapons ban was shot down.
Being taken seriously as members of a youth movement was another challenge, as many argued the students had become active too soon after the tragedy.
"We were treated like kids. I guess that's to be expected," Tarr said. "We are capable of making a change and that's what's kept us genuine and true."
Landry, 16, said she wasn't politically active before the Valentine's Day shooting, but helped organize the walkout at her school in Sarasota despite backlash from some students and teachers.
She and the other students who are part of this movement don't want to shut gun owners out of the conversation.
"We want everyone to know we're here not to protest or go against the Second Amendment," Landry said. "We're here to ask for more control on semi-automatic rifles."
Good asked whether March For Our Lives had a stance on the Guardian Program, implemented as an alternative to hiring more school resource officers. Chadwick, a rising senior at Stoneman Douglas, said that while having more armed security has pros and cons, minority students who may not feel safer with more armed security because of discrimination should be taken into account.
"We also shouldn't have to have armed guards in our schools in the first place," she said.
The student activists stressed more mental health professionals in their schools — more preventative measures — rather than reactionary tactics such as metal detectors, Tarr added.
Each answer was punctuated by a round of applause from the audience, signaling its agreement with the young students' efforts to effect change. Sue Sabo came from Venice to register to vote and hear the speakers.
"I thought they were amazingly articulate and well informed and inspirational leaders," she said. "If this is an example of that generation, I'm very encouraged."
The visit was part of March For Our Lives' Road To Change tour, which brings town hall events across the country and to every congressional district in Florida. The tour began on June 15 in Chicago, and Sarasota was the sixth Florida stop.
As for the future? The Road To Change tour added dates for July and August, but Duff noted that if this conversation didn't inspire audience members to be more active in their local communities, "You have failed us, and we have failed you."
Students in Sarasota intend to continue to gather support for their activist group Students Stand Up. In August, they hope to march in Orlando, focusing on the NRA, and want to join with survivors of the Pulse nightclub shooting.
"This isn't stopping anytime soon," Cartlidge said.