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Students stage 'die-ins' nationwide to protest gun violence

June 12, 2018 06:17 pm Updated: June 12, 2018 06:17 pm

Young people staged "die-in" protests nationwide Tuesday to protest gun violence, aiming to raise awareness on the second anniversary of a mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub that left 49 people dead.

The protest included demonstrations in at least a dozen cities, including Washington, where people gathered on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol, and in Florida, near President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago property. Participants lay motionless on the ground for 720 seconds - one second for every person believed to have been killed in a mass shooting since the Pulse nightclub shooting on June 12, 2016.

"Our bodies will symbolize the tangible effects that lethal legislative inaction has on its citizens," organizers wrote on Twitter.

In Washington, people gathered on the west lawn of the Capitol on a sunny morning, many holding signs, to listen to speakers before taking up positions on the grass, where they posed as dead bodies. Students later went to the offices of senators including Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carrying a long list bearing the name of every student killed in a school shooting since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, where 13 people were killed.

"The truth is, kids are scared to go to school," said Marcel McClinton, a student activist from Houston. "This 230 lb. left tackle is scared to go to school, and it's not because of a bully, it's because of a gun."

McClinton rattled off a list of legislative actions the students want to see, including mandatory safe storage laws for guns and stricter background checks.

"I don't want your guns," McClinton yelled, and the crowd yelled it back to him.

Bree Butler, who survived a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas that killed 10 people last month, said she and others support the Second Amendment but want to see politicians take steps to try to prevent mass shootings like the one at her school.

"No matter how much you want to call us gun-grabbing communitists, that is not what we are fighting for," she said. "We just want to live."

Almost all of the speakers were affected by gun violence in some way. Zion Kelly's brother, Zaire, was killed during a botched robbery last year just a few hundred feet from his home in Washington. Jackson O'Mara attends Great Mills High School in Southern Maryland, where a student brought a gun to school in March, killing a girl and wounding a boy. One of her classmates read text messages that she and her friends sent during the shooting and unfurled the very long sheet of paper that they later brought inside to display for elected officials.

"There's my school," she said, pointing to the sheet.

The die-ins sprung from a wave of student activism that started after a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people in February. Students there immediately became outspoken about their desire to see changes in the nation's gun laws, and they then organized marches around the country, and around the world, on March 24.

Students also have organized events on other anniversaries of mass shootings, such as on April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine shooting, when students organized a national school walkout. After the Santa Fe shooting, in a conservative area of Texas where gun ownership is common, students sought momentum for the cause but took a more cautious approach, steering clear of discussing gun control and instead focusing on "gun safety" as a way to show that they don't want to take guns away from their fellow Texans.

National organizers now are hoping to make registering students to vote their legacy, and have been sponsoring voter drives at their events. The students from Stoneman Douglas, who formed the group March for Our Lives, are now embarking on a summerlong voting drive, crisscrossing the country in a bus.

"Registering to vote is so important," Butler said. "But you know what's more important? Showing up and voting."