FORT WALTON BEACH — A group of Choctawhatchee High School students is organizing a “March for our Lives” to push for gun reform and school safety.
Baili Pettet, a 17-year-old senior at Choctaw who is dual enrolled and one of three student organizers of the event, said the march is part of a nationwide day of protests to encourage legislative action on gun reform.
“It’s really important for us to raise awareness because students everywhere in our community are starting not to feel safe in schools because our legislators aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do and they’re not protecting us,” Pettet said. “So we think that it’s very important that we get together as a community and express what we want and make it impossible for our legislators not to notice.”
Pettet said the march is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, March 24 in Fort Walton Beach, though an exact route has not been determined. She said the group is working with the Fort Walton Beach Police Department to finalize a route.
High school students across the country were galvanized into action following a mass school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14, during which 17 people, including teachers and students, were killed, and 14 more were injured. Pettet said the actions of student activists who survived the shooting have inspired her and others, including adults, to take action.
“We don’t want guns to be illegal,” Pettet said. “We aren’t anti-gun or anti-Second Amendment. We’re just tired of being afraid and we want our legislators to take action and put an end to violence.”
Among the change organizers hope to see is a ban on automatic and semiautomatic rifles, as well as universal background checks and mandatory mental health screenings when purchasing a firearm. Pettet said they also want to “make sure that teachers do not have weapons in classrooms.”
The march, she said, is open to both students and adults. She said she has received mobilizing help from the Okaloosa County Democratic Executive Committee, and has reached out to other organizations for “bipartisan support” but has not received welcoming responses from them.
Pettet she is organizing the event with two other Choctawhatchee students, Sofia Louah and Elena Patterson.
Ultimately, Pettet said the people participating in the march want to see more “responsible gun owners” and want to emphasize that they are not “asking for everyone to get rid of their handguns and their hunting rifles.”
“We just want to see responsible action taken,” she said. “We would like for no one in the state of Florida to have access to semi-automatic rifles and magazines … we believe it’s not necessary and it’s killing children. We just want everyone to know that this is what we want, and we’re going to make it really hard for everyone to ignore us.”