The crowd Saturday at Lee’s Summit City Hall for the March for Our Lives Lee’s Summit demonstration wasn’t as big as the group the assembled for a similar protest 20 miles away at Theis Park in Kansas City, Mo.
But the message was no less powerful.
Several hundred people — perhaps as many as 1,000, organizers estimated — participated in the event, which convened on the steps outside City Hall for two hours to hear from youth concerned about school safety and the gun violence that has infringed upon the sanctity of our nation’s classrooms.
“Young people today have so much passion, so much strength and so much talent and they are using it for a good cause,” said Missouri State Senate candidate Hillary Shields, who is running in District 8 this November and also spoke at the event. “I’m so glad to see them using it for a good cause. I’m so glad to see them engaged. I’m so glad to see them making their voices heard.”
Organized by Lee’s Summit junior Aly Alvarado and her classmate Sage Morgan, March for Our Lives Lee’s Summit was part of a coordinated national effort to raise awareness about gun control and its impact on school safety in the wake of the mass shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
“With every school shooting, I’ve wanted to do something, but I never felt like I could,” Alvarado said. “I thought, ‘Oh, I’m just a kid, so I can’t do anything.’ But when I saw the Parkland students doing something, I realized that, ‘Wait a minute, I can do something.’”
Alvarado recalled an incident from seven years ago at Lee’s Summit Elementary School when a gun was brandished at the school during a dispute between parents. The school resource officer intervened in that case, but the incident left a long-lasting mark.
So too did a pair of gun-related incidents at Lee’s Summit schools this academic year.
A Lee’s Summit North senior, Gemesha Thomas, shot and killed herself inside a school bathroom in late September.
“With Gemesha, I think that really traumatized all the schools,” Alvarado said. “There was a state of disbelief that it happened. … That has created intense support from North.”
Then, two weeks after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., left 17 people dead, four students were arrested for bringing an AR-15 and shotgun onto Lee’s Summit High School’s campus.
“My school is pretty conservative … but we weren’t informed that people brought guns onto our campus until 24 hours, so that’s everyone was like, ‘OK, we’re not safe; we need to do something,’” Alvarado said.
Just this week, Lee’s Summit High School announced that all external doors for the campus’ five buildings would be locked during instructional periods for the first time since the building opened in 1954.
“These changes were recommended, unanimously, by the LSHS Safety Team,” a letter that was sent to parents Sunday read, in part. “Our team will continue to work, and partner with LSR7, towards the number one goal of keeping each LSHS Tiger, student or staff, safe and secure.”
Other school buildings within the district already had similarly restrictive access, according to a spokesman for the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District.
“We need to do more to keep our kids safe and make sure their schools have the resources to give them a safe learning environment,” Shields said. “… Like I told the kids, I was younger than they are when Columbine happened. I was a freshman in high school nearly two decades ago, and things have gotten worse instead of better. We owe it to them to do more.”
Among Shields’ chief priorities are ensuring schools are properly funded, especially for providing enough counseling staff and school resource officers, but she doesn’t think arming teachers is the right solution.
“When I ask the teachers what they need, they say more counselors,” Shields said. “… I’ve talked to a lot of teachers who are adamantly opposed to that (arming teachers). Retired teachers are adamantly opposed to that. I have yet to meet a single teacher who thinks putting guns in schools is the solution to this problem.”
Alvarado believes restricting access to certain types of military-style guns, which make it easy to commit mass murder, is a good place to start.
Speakers at March for Our Lives Lee’s Summit — among them Miriya Stiles, who helped organize and lead the walkout at Paul Kinder Middle School in Blue Springs; Vicki Sears of Lee’s Summit 4 Safe Schools; and Jason Keene, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran — also stressed the importance of voting and advocated for a ban on bump stocks and high-capacity magazines among proposed solutions.
“I was shocked by the turnout,” Alvarado said. “A lot of people were walking in and out, but I was so pleased. I knew the Kansas City one would be bigger, but every little community counts.”
March for Our Lives Lee’s Summit raised nearly $200 for Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun control and against gun violence. The event also included a voter registration drive and a lie-in, which was cut short from the planned 17 minutes.
Alvarado isn’t finished organizing protest events. Beginning at 10 a.m. on April 20, Lee’s Summit and Lee’s Summit North are planning to march on City Hall. Lee’s Summit West students will caravan in cars as it’s too far to walk.
“It’s going to be big,” Alvarado said.