Hundreds attend March for Our Lives in Stonington

Stonington — High school junior Hannah Lamb played in a lacrosse scrimmage Saturday morning, and in the afternoon led hundreds of people in a march across the school grounds to call for an end to gun violence.

The 16-year-old helped organize the Stonington March for Our Lives so that she and her classmates, along with their siblings and parents and grandparents, could join the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and protesters from across the state and nation in saying, "Enough is enough" to mass shootings.

Lamb considers herself somewhere in the middle of "those who want to abolish the Second Amendment and those who want the right to own any weapon." Some of her classmates called for enactment of universal background checks, an assault weapons ban and a red flag law that enables courts to order removal of guns from those deemed dangerous. Lamb said she doesn't know "the exact solution."

"But the nation needs to recognize there is a problem, and it has," Lamb said. "The conversation has started. It is our job as students and as future voters to continue that conversation."

And talk they did.

The students — most of them girls in skinny jeans and hoodies, though some boys turned out, as well — gathered with their parents and grandparents in a back parking lot to pick up signs that had been made at poster parties in town during the week. They marched to the front of the school, some chanting, "What do we want? School safety! When do we want it? Now!" and "Hey, ho, the NRA has got to go!"

The crowd cheered as student speakers asserted their right to be safe in school and said "thoughts and prayers" are not working.

"Where children are supposed to feel safe and cultivated, they are instead being taught to hide under desks and charge a shooter if approached," said Daisy Williams, a junior. There was a practice "Code Red" drill at the high school about a week after the Parkland shooting, she said. Students, already on edge, were told about the drill ahead of time, according to Williams.

The March for Our Lives was inspired by student leaders from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., who quickly mobilized after a former student armed with an AR-15 shot 17 people and wounded many others on Valentine's Day. People from across the country and as far away as Auckland, New Zealand, participated.

The Stonington organizers obtained official blue and white banners and other materials from national organizers who were funded, in part, by celebrity donors such George and Amal Clooney, Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg.

The march drew people from several surrounding towns in southeastern Connecticut and Rhode Island and as far away as Newtown, Thompson and Wolcott, according to Elissa Bass, a former Day reporter and editor who partnered with Lamb to organize the event. Bass estimated the crowd size at 600 to 700 based on information from Stonington police and a photographer who had a view of the full crowd.

"I'm thrilled we were able to give people an opportunity to express their opinion locally," Bass said. "This is where we live and this is where it's important to talk about it."

Bass said the conversation needs to include all sides. One of the invited speakers, the town's first selectman, Rob Simmons, had earned a top rating from the NRA while serving as a congressman.

"I've seen my share of death and destruction in a war zone, but there's something particularly awful, horrible, terrible, about the senseless slaughter of students in what is supposed to be a safe zone, which is our schools," said Simmons, who is also a Vietnam War veteran. "I share the feeling that we must do something about it."

The crowd cheered when Simmons said he agrees with his wife, Heidi Simmons, a retired schoolteacher, that teachers should not be armed.

"The job of teaching is teaching, and the job of others is to provide school security," he said.

Connecticut passed some of the strictest gun laws in the country in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, including registration of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, but many marchers on Saturday said the rest of the country needs to catch up to their home state.

In Hartford, lawmakers are debating further firearms regulations proposed by outgoing Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The General Assembly's Judiciary Committee on Friday listened to hours of comment at a public hearing on proposed bills to ban bump stocks, which enable semi-automatic guns to shoot at a faster rate, and to regulate "ghost guns," which are made up of parts ordered through the mail and are not registered.

Groton State Representative Joe de la Cruz, whose son Joey Gingerella was fatally shot in Groton in December 2016, told the Stonington gathering it was good to assemble in protest but nothing gets lawmakers' attention like receiving thousands of emails and phone calls from constituents.

He and his wife, Tammy de la Cruz, spoke of their never-ending grief. De la Cruz said for the first time in his life, he has tinted windows in his car, because "I drive around crying all the time." Tammy de la Cruz said that as good as Connecticut's gun laws are, her son became a statistic when he was shot in a bar parking lot as he tried to stop a man from beating his girlfriend. The alleged shooter, a convicted felon, was not legally allowed to own a gun.

State Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, told the young people she was proud of them and urged them to change the trend of people 18 to 25 years old being in the lowest percentage of voters. Urban held up her wrist to show a pink bracelet she had vowed to wear for the rest of her life in remembrance of the Sandy Hook victims.

"You have a voice," Urban said. "You're using that voice. You're going to make a difference."

k.florin@theday.com 

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