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NYC students join National School Walkout against gun violence on Columbine anniversary

Students in New York City rally for change in Washington Square Park.

Students from across New York City renewed their calls against gun violence at a large rally Friday in Washington Square Park.

The students joined their peers nationwide in a mass action on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting that killed 13 people.  

Katherine Vargas, 17, a student at the High School of Fashion Industries on West 24th Street, said, "We go to school to learn and not so somebody can shoot us.

"We hope to bring awareness because a lot of adults think of us as crazy teenagers. We do know what we are talking about. And we are bringing change."

Holding signs reading "I want to read books not a eulogy," students from dozens of area schools crowded the downtown park, standing on benches and the water fountain as speakers delivered remarks near the Washington Square Arch.

Tim Markbreiter, 17, of the NYC iSchool on Sixth Avenue, addressed about a dozen people with a megaphone, calling for gun control. 

"I think that if we support some strong gun control measures we can prevent massacres like Parkland from happening," he later said. 

The action came just a month after the March for Our Lives, organized by the survivors of the deadly mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14. Seventeen students and faculty were killed in the shooting.

Students also held a walkout on March 14, a month after the Parkland shooting.

The demonstrations have been intended to pressure politicians to enact stronger gun control protections. Advocates succeeded in seeing the Florida Legislature pass a bill containing stricter regulations on waiting periods, bump stocks and the minimum age for gun purchases, but there have been few substantive gun control victories at the federal level and at statehouses around the nation.

Sofia Gutierrez, 15, of the Marymount School of New York on Fifth Avenue, said that partisanship should not dictate the gun control debate.

"Before (Parkland), I thought gun control was about being Democratic or Republican. It's not about a party, it's about human rights and how we should live. It's about fighting for our lives and not about fighting for a party."

Markbreiter said, "I'm really tired of hearing about another student being killed. I'm tired of hearing about another black man being killed. I'm tired about hearing about the millions of dollars the Republicans get from the NRA."

Ezra Reyes, 18, of the Brooklyn High School of the Arts, said she was inspired by the Parkland survivors to speak out.

"When I saw the Parkland kids really use their voice to convey that we need change, from that point I realized that I too have a voice," said Reyes, who read a poem at the rally.

Reyes' classmate, Ellie Lora, 18, said she had "a whole mix of emotions... I came here to speak up. A lot has happened to my friends, friends of friends. I just want to be here to cause change."

Scott Pappalardo, 50, of Middletown, N.Y., who distributed 162 signs to students with the names of kids killed in school shootings since Columbine, reminded the students that protest must be met with action at the polls. "All of this means nothing if you don't register to vote," he said. "Go out and vote, OK?," he said to cheers.

Kadijah Belcher, 15, of Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School on Amsterdam Avenue, said she's excited to get the right to vote when she turns 18. 

"It's important to me because the fact that I'm being told by people who are supposed to protect me that I'm being overly sensitive about gun control is ridiculous. I have the right to talk about what I feel affects my generation."

Since the Columbine shooting, more than 187,000 students at at least 193 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus during school hours, according to a Washington Post analysis.

With Rajvi Desai

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