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OPINION: What a Walkout at a Catholic School Looks Like

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First, let me make one thing clear: You cannot be pro-life if you are pro-guns. It’s that simple. Guns are weapons of mass destruction, of war, and of death. The sole purpose of a gun is to kill, one way or the other. So, no matter what the argument is to actually own the gun, pro-life and pro-guns are contradictory of one another.

Two weeks ago, March 14, was National School Walkout Day. Thousands of students across the country walked out of class to honor the victims of Parkland, Florida, to pay tribute to all other victims of gun violence and mass shootings, and to rally for common-sense gun regulation. I organized the walkout at my school, Marist High School — a private, Catholic school. Because Marist is a private school, we don’t have the same constitutional rights as public school kids. I had to be careful about how I should approach it. I contacted the president of the school and organized meetings with a few other students to discuss what we wanted to happen. Coordinating the walkout took a lot of thought and planning, and I was nervous, excited, and filled with adrenaline all at the same time. After the fact, the event was totally fulfilling, and I felt extremely proud — proud to be a Christian and proud to be a Marist student.

The walkout at Marist High School was surprisingly awesome. It wasn’t surprising because Marist itself is in favor of guns, which is obviously not true. Marist, and the Catholic Church in general, has a very strong stance on gun control and regulation including: universal background checks, limited civilian access to high-capacity weapons, federal laws criminalizing illegal gun trafficking, and a total ban on assault weapons. When talking about gun control, Marist families seem to lean toward the liberal side: for gun regulation. However, Marist families are also irrevocably pro-life, the conservative side of politics. As I mentioned earlier, gun regulations and pro-life laws should go hand in hand as they both place value on human life.

I have observed the majority of Marist students to be conservative. Although they are nominally pro-life, many are hardcore supporters of the Second Amendment and the NRA; so I had no idea how they would react to a nationwide protest, even if protesting wasn’t how we approached the walkout. That’s why such a huge turnout surprised me so much — in the best way.

Marist’s walkout was pretty much a perfect embodiment of what a walkout at a Catholic school should look like. We had to mostly refrain from being political (even though gun control is a political issue) and stick firmly to the Catholic beliefs, like pro-life and common-sense universal background checks. We chose to honor the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting by asking students to come out not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Christians.

Three faculty members, representing the three adults who were killed, and 14 students for the 14 students who lost their lives, stood around a Peace Pole with posters that had a picture of a victim and brief information about him or her. One adult’s poster read, “I was engaged… soon to be married.” Another poster of a student read, “My dad used to call me Princess.” For many Marist students, seeing the pictures and reading about the victims hit close to home. Many kids and even teachers were moved to tears, which, although we would never want to make anyone cry, was very powerful to see.

Students, many whom I’d never spoken to in my life, came up to me all day and thanked me. They thanked me for giving a voice to the voiceless, for being a faithful Christian, for bringing this topic to the Marist campus. I was blown away by everyone’s kind comments and genuine gratefulness to the other students who organized the walkout along with me. We worked hard to pull this together in a mostly conservative, non-political school, and I was glad to see it had all paid off. Of course, this wasn’t about me or any of my Marist peers.

We walked out for Gina Montalto, the young winter guard member whose poster I held; for Scott Beigel, the geography teacher who was supposed to be married to his fiancé; for every child under the age of 10 brutally murdered at Sandy Hook. We march for them. We must never stop marching until we bring them justice.

Earlier in this article, I mentioned that the huge turnout for the walkout surprised me. This is why: Just because the turnout was great outside doesn’t mean the same applied for inside the school. Some students, mainly boys, decided to stay in their classroom. I heard upset whispers in the hallways, demanding Marist to stay out of politics like “they’re supposed to.” One student angrily said, “This is a protest. I support guns.” Another even referred to “common-sense gun regulation” as communism. Yes, that’s right. But that’s why we walk out.

We walk out in response to these NRA supporters, these students who support guns so hardcore that they refuse to even honor students who have been killed. We need to protect kids’ lives, especially at school, where kids come to learn and laugh with friends and teachers. Enough is enough. Never again.

I hope to see everyone, both Christians and those who aren’t religious at all, rallying for gun control whenever you can, and especially at the March For Our Lives on March 24 and April 20 in the second National School Walkout. Because this isn’t about the Second Amendment — this is about our lives.

Eliza, 16, is a junior at Marist High School, where she works to educate herself about political current affairs.

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