Jackson, Pinedale March for Gun Control Saturday

By on March 22, 2018

Students at Journeys School were among the participants of a national day of protest March 14 spurred by the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Last week thousands of students across the country walked out of school in solidarity with the survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. This week, Yvette Werner says it’s time for adults to step up.

Along with Donna Andrus and Christie Goss, Werner is organizing a March For Our Lives Saturday in Jackson. Cities across the country will hold marches Saturday. According to the national website, the goal is “to demand that [students’] lives and safety become a priority and that we end gun violence and mass shootings in our schools today.”

Werner, a mother of two young children and a former teacher, says the walkout was the wakeup call she needed: “Every time there’s a shooting, it’s devastating. But it started to feel just like a part of our culture. I was almost feeling desensitized.”

Watching the students in Parkland rapidly mobilize and seeing local students stand in solidarity with them inspired her. “If they can do it, we can do it.”

Her goal for Saturday’s march is to show students “that we are with them, that we support them, that we are going to be adults and we are going to do our jobs and keep them safe.”

Werner doesn’t see this as a political problem. Rather, it is a moral one.  She says it has been discouraging to watch the politicization of school shootings: “I really think this could be an incredible opportunity for people from both sides of the aisle to come together and protect our children.”

Though it would be difficult to find someone who disagrees with the goal of protecting children, the means of achieving that goal highlight political divides.

Bob Culver, of the Jackson Hole Tea Party, sees the walkouts and marches as ineffective and marginalizing to gun owners. “They seem to be pushing a political agenda and the agenda seems to be steered toward calling firearm owners bad or evil,” he said. “They’re attacking firearms and firearm owners and not confronting safety.”

Culver believes that some of the students participating in the walkouts are being told what to say, or propping up a liberal agenda “while shaming students for holding a different idea,” for example, the notion that teachers should be armed.  

Guns aren’t the enemy, he said, in fact, they could be the solution.

Schools, along with places like libraries and senior centers, are “soft targets,” Culver said. They are vulnerable, and Culver says they publicize their vulnerability: “Signs that say ‘Gun-free Zone’ are advertisements that everybody is unarmed.”

At a recent Teton County school board meeting, Culver shared his opinion that some staff members in the district should be trained as armed defenders. Similar conversations are happening across the state and country. Uinta County just became the first district in Wyoming to approve arming teachers. One of President Trump’s ideas in the wake of the Parkland shooting is to give bonuses to teachers who get gun training.

Pulling Triggers

The most recent high school shooting occurred just two days ago at Great Mills High School in Maryland. A 17-year-old student shot two people, but was himself shot within a minute by the school’s resource officer.

Culver says the officer’s quick action is evidence in favor of armed defenders.

The debate about arming teachers can quickly devolve into a tit-for-tat, anecdote-driven spiral. At Great Mills, the resource officer stopped a shooter. But two weeks after the Parkland shooting, a teacher in Dalton, Georgia, barricaded himself in his classroom and began shooting a gun, sending terrified students fleeing through the halls. Last week, a teacher in California teaching a gun safety lesson accidentally fired and injured a student.

For every person who would feel safer with guns in school, there is someone who would feel less safe.

Evanston High School’s student body president Maggie Russell spoke at the meeting regarding the proposal to arm teachers in Uinta County. Many students had told her they felt uncomfortable with the idea, she said. Then, another student in the audience rose to say that it would make her feel safer to have armed teachers.

Jamie Rellstab, a senior at Pinedale High School, is another Wyoming student who has stepped into the fray. The notion of arming teachers does not sit well with her. “Teachers aren’t trained to shoot, they’re trained to teach. Also, no teacher is going to shoot their own kid, their own student. No teacher wants to do that.”

Along with other high school students, Rellstab is planning Pinedale’s Saturday march.

She has received backlash from peers and adults alike: “A lot of people are telling me it’s stupid and not going to make a difference. A lot of people tell me I’m using my parents’ voices, but I reiterate that these are my opinions and I will continue to stand up for them. I am an individual.”  

That the march is pointless is a notion Rellstab refutes. This became clear to her recently, when Sen. John Barrasso spoke to her class after the Parkland shooting. Rellstab asked him a question about gun control, and he replied that it’s his duty to represent the people who voted for him, most of whom are against stricter gun control measures.

Rellstab took his words to heart. If he is meant to represent the people of Wyoming, she wants to show him that his constituents are not a monolith. “Wyoming isn’t as cut and dry or black and white as people may think, and the people he represents do want gun control … I want to show him that there are people out there who want this and students asking him to protect their lives.”

The question of policy change, Rellstab said, is down the line. For now, she wants to start a conversation. “In a place as conservative as Pinedale, I hope the march shows that there are people with different views, I hope it brings a conversation to the dinner table that wouldn’t happen otherwise.”

These walkouts and marches, she said, aren’t about parroting adults’ opinions—they are about resisting the normalization of violence: “I was born after Columbine; I’ve never lived in a nation where school shootings aren’t the norm.”

Like Rellstab, Yvette Werner isn’t sure what will happen after the march. All she knows is that it feels too urgent to stay silent. In one of the gun-friendliest states in the nation, the marches are sure to spark controversy. Rellstab isn’t worried: “A lot of kids in this nation are up against big people right now, and I’m right there with them.”

Jackson’s march begins 10 a.m. Saturday at the Home Ranch Parking Lot. Pinedale’s march is 11 a.m. beginning at the American Legion Park.

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