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March For Our Lives: Local youth protest for gun control through the rain in Sarasota

March For Our Lives: Local students call for gun control

During the second annual March For Our Lives gun control protest in Sarasota, local students called for an increase in "common sense gun control" laws. They were joined by more than 100 other protesters as they marched through the rain on Saturday.
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During the second annual March For Our Lives gun control protest in Sarasota, local students called for an increase in "common sense gun control" laws. They were joined by more than 100 other protesters as they marched through the rain on Saturday.

A gun control protest spearheaded by local students couldn’t be stopped by the threat of rain clouds as the second annual March For Our Lives returned to the Sarasota Bayfront Park on Saturday morning.

Organizers hoped for a crowd closer to last year’s 20,000 but were pleased that more than 100 people joined them to make their voices heard in their fight for “common sense gun control.”

“It’s good to know that people are willing to deal with the rain to advocate for something that they’re passionate about,” said 17-year-old Ahmad Ibsais, a senior at Braden River High School, who played a major role in planning this year’s protest march across the John Ringling Causeway in downtown Sarasota.

With Sarasota Police Department officers clearing the way ahead, marchers held signs that read “Disarm hate,” “Let our violence end” and “bullets are not school supplies.” By the end of their two-hour demonstration, signs and protesters alike were soaked through.

When Ibsais found out that the official local chapter of the March For Our Lives movement wasn’t planning to host another in 2019, he and other teenagers took the reins. Those leaders addressed the crowd in short speeches before the walk.

“How can we pursue life, liberty and happiness when 125,000 Americans are shot every year,” asked Madison Markham, an 18-year-old Manatee County student. “The answer is simple: We change the system. We vote. We boycott. We call, we write, we rally, we march, we walk out, we resist and we demand real change.”

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The threat of rain seemed to clear out before the March For Our Lives began Saturday morning, but protesters were drenched in the final stretch of their hike across the John Ringling Causeway in downtown Sarasota. Ryan Callihan rcallihan@bradenton.com

Markham acknowledged progress that Florida has made in terms of gun control, including a three-day waiting period and a heightened age requirement since last year when a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. She even cited President Donald Trump’s ban on bump stocks but says there’s still more to be done.

“It seems like it’s always someone who shouldn’t have access to a gun that’s doing these things,” Markham said. “We need to make the world safer with comprehensive background checks no matter what, including a look at their history of mental health, and we need to make safe storage of firearms mandatory.”

Mckenna White, 19, of Lakewood Ranch argued that Dick’s Sporting Goods, which no longer sells assault weapons in their stores, is doing more to protect people than the U.S. government. Like many other protesters on Saturday, however, she still supports the Second Amendment

“If you’re a responsible gun owner, you’ve got nothing to worry about,” she said.

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Before marching across the John Ringling Causeway for the Sarasota March For Our Lives, protesters held signs up for passing cars at the Sarasota Bayfront Park on Saturday morning. Ryan Callihan rcallihan@bradenton.com

Marchers of all ages joined in the protest, as well. Ann Murphy, a 66-year-old winter resident from Michigan and former school teacher was among those who trekked the bridge.

“These kids should be getting ready for prom, baseball season and making college plans,” Murphy said. “They shouldn’t have to be planning a political protest, but I’m glad their voices are being heard and I’m here to support them the best I can.”

But they are making college plans, too, Ibsais said. He explained that he plans to keep fighting for gun control as part of a university advocacy group next fall.

“I realize that gun violence is seeping into aspects of our lives, and I’m going to keep trying to do something about it,” he said.

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Ahmad Ibsais (middle), a 17-year-old senior at Braden River High School, rallies more than 100 people with a megaphone during the March For Our Lives in downtown Sarasota on Saturday morning. Ryan Callihan rcallihan@bradenton.com

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