Gun control activists are staging a memorial made up of 7,000 pairs of shoes outside the United States Congress on Tuesday as they continue to demand measures to control gun ownership and meaningful gun regulation.
The memorial, which represents the number of children killed by gunfire since the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre, will be followed by a nationwide school walkout on Wednesday. Students in over 2,500 schools will abandon their classrooms for 17 minutes to honor the 17 children and staff killed during the Feb. 14 massacre in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Highschool in Parkland, Florida.
The shooting in Florida was the deadliest since 20 children, and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.
Since Feb. 14 students have taken the lead in demanding action from the U.S. government and signaling out the National Rifle Association (NRA), a self-declared civil rights organization that lobbies to maintain a mostly unregulated market for all types of weapons, including military-grade assault rifles.
The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence has spearheaded a campaign to target all politicians who receive money from the NRA as a measure to pressure for gun reform.
The students' demands have gained the support of a wide array of groups, including other victims of gun violence, the activists who helped plan the Women’s March in Washington, celebrities like actress Susan Sarandon, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Some schools have also shown support, encouraging students to exercise their free speech rights. “When students protest at schools, our school staff will respond appropriately and allow our students to be heard,” said Robert Runcie, superintendent for public schools for Broward County, Florida, where Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman is located.
However, a few have threatened to suspend students if they disrupt class by leaving. The ACLU has argued “a disciplinary response is a disservice to young people and a missed educational opportunity,” while dozens of U.S. colleges and universities have announced they will not consider these disciplinary actions in their application processes.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about 1,300 people younger than age 18 are killed by gunfire in the U.S. every year.