KAPAA — Seventeen lei decorated 17 empty chairs at Kapaa High School on Wednesday morning, as hundreds of students gathered in a downpour.
“It’s far too simple a process to buy a gun in this country and that needs to change,” said sophomore Kasiah Vercelli, who organized the school’s participation in the national walkout day.
She continued: “We want to have actual change. We can’t wait for the next shooting, we have to do it now.”
Tighter restrictions on the background of those able to buy guns, as well as raising the age requirement to buy firearms to 21 are examples of changes the students are demanding.
About 500 students voluntarily left class and gathered outside at 10 a.m. for a 17-minute show of solidarity, which included a moment of silence and student speeches with the goal of pushing lawmakers toward firearm reform.
Signs with phrases like “Books Not Bullets,” “Fear Has No Place Here,” and “Enough is Enough” dotted the crowd, more than 300 strong.
The event was part of a national student demonstration one month after a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida killed 17 people.
Students quoted school shooting statistics and highlighted not only the 17 names of those killed, but also spoke about those who died in past mass shootings.
“This is no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave,” said Kiauna Haroldsen, another student at Kapaa High School. “This is the land of the feared and the home of the afraid.”
Kapaa High School voices are strong enough to be heard on Capitol Hill, students said, and efforts to push for gun reform will continue through online petitions and social media.
Walkouts were also held at Island School and Kauai High School, and 22 students from Kauai High School visited the U.S. Capitol for the National School Walkout Rally, meeting with Sen. Mazie Hirono on Wednesday.
“So many American students, led by the brave, articulate survivors of Parkland, are standing up, sharing their stories and calling for change,” Hirono said. “I’m inspired by their determination and will continue to fight alongside them as we work to pass sensible gun safety legislation and an end to gun violence.”
Alexia Derego, a senior at Kapaa High School, joined Vercelli to organize the walkout after deciding to do her senior project on gun violence and then discovering Vercelli was starting a school walkout movement.
“We’re really proud of our school today,” Derego said.
Honoring the victims of America’s mass shootings and calling for gun reform were the reasons for the demonstration, but Vercelli said the bottom line is the need for people to feel safe in their schools and communities.
“The shooter in Florida never should have been able to get a gun. We’re calling for common sense gun laws,” she said. “And it’s human nature, people get around blockades and it’s hard to stop people, but it’s (tighter gun legislation) going to make it a lot harder.”
Ensuring safe schools expands beyond the realm of gun reform to include arenas like mental health and bullying, Vercelli said, but she thinks targeting firearms law is the most effective path to safe schools.
“There needs to be a focus both on gun reform and mental health, but it’s easier to fix a legislation problem than a people problem,” Vercelli said.