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Utah student walkout to honor Columbine victims, push for gun reforms

By Marjorie Cortez, KSL | Posted - Apr. 19, 2018 at 9:20 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah students plan to walk out of school Friday and meet at the Utah Capitol to honor the victims of the April 20, 1999, Columbine High School massacre and to call on elected officials to enact common sense gun reforms, a student organizer said Thursday.

Some 2,000 to 3,000 students are expected to take part in the Utah School Walkout, which will be a day of action, said student organizer Riley Arnold, a Skyline High School student.

The rally at the Capitol will include a panel discussion by state lawmakers and voter registration.

"We're just really hoping that the Legislature will listen to us and take into account our voices," she said.

Specifically, Utah youths want policymakers to adopt "common sense gun reforms" like enhanced background checks, increasing waiting periods for gun purchases, raising age requirements for purchases, as well as restricting the sale of bump stocks and high-capacity magazines — "Not necessarily taking away all guns or anything like that," Arnold said.

The legislative panel that includes Democratic Reps. Angela Romero, Patrice Arent, Carol Spackman Moss, Joel Briscoe and Brian King is scheduled to address the students, she said.

Amber Willis, clinical director of James Mason Centers for Recovery, is also scheduled to speak.

Friday's events include school walkouts at 10 a.m., the rally at the Utah Capitol at 1:30 p.m., a "die in" for 6 minutes and 20 seconds "to represent the time it took for the Parkland, Florida, school shooting to occur," followed by the panel discussion by state lawmakers and candidates, according to the event's website.

Arnold said the Capitol rally is intended to focus on action, such as raising issues and suggested solutions with elected officials and encouraging students to vote.

One primary goal is to raise awareness about gun policy and school safety.

"I think students shouldn't have to go to school in fear for their lives. This is becoming an epidemic. We're seeing it more and more. Us, as a society, have become immune to seeing children dying. We need to acknowledge this is a problem and we need to work to fix this," Arnold said.

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Friday's events are student-led and organized, she said.

"I just want people to know we're not political puppets. We're not crisis actors. We're here on our own accord. Everything we've done, we're doing it completely by ourselves. We're not influenced by political parties or corporations. We're doing this, literally, to fight for our lives," Arnold said.

Arnold, a high school freshman, is one of several student organizers from across the Salt Lake Valley. Although she is involved in social causes, she said she never imagined that she would become so intensely involved in the youth-led movement to change the nation's gun policies.

It has meant working late many nights and "lots of meetings with the principal to get me excused from school. At least it's not missing school just to miss it. All my teachers know that," she said.

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