Cincinnatians will join in on a series of marches springing up across the country organized by activists and survivors of the Feb. 14 mass shooting that killed 17 people at a school in Parkland, Fla.
Debate has swirled once again around gun control following a steady drumbeat of tragedies across the country, including Parkland and one in Marshall County, Ky. that resulted in two deaths last month. So far this year, there have been 17 school shootings nationally.
Gun control advocates, including march organizers, say tougher gun laws are needed to make it more difficult to obtain firearms. But many Second Amendment groups say that will infringe on gun owners' rights and won't prevent mass shootings.
The main March for Our Lives event will take place March 24 in Washington, D.C., but others will take place the same day in other locations, including Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, Detroit and major cities across the country.
Cincinnati’s event, hosted by local groups United We Stand and the Young Feminists Coalition, will take place at a yet-to-be announced location downtown at 11 a.m. The march will proceed to the downtown Cincinnati office of U.S. Sen. Rob Portman.
Portman, a Republican, a vocal proponent of Second Amendment rights, has consistently voted against gun control legislation. That’s earned him an endorsement — and $3.06 million in direct and indirect campaign support since 1990 — from the National Rifle Association.
One of the national event’s organizers is 18-year-old Emma Gonzales, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where former student Nikolas Cruz gunned down her classmates with an AR15 rifle.
Cruz was expelled from Douglas after multiple disciplinary incidents. He was able to obtain the rifle he used in the shootings, and other firearms, even though he had a history of disciplinary issues. In recent years, authorities had been alerted about alarming social media posts he made about shootings and violence.
Teachers and counselors have described Cruz as an unpredictable individual who was suffering from depression and other mental illness.
Conservative politicians and Second Amendment groups, including those in Ohio, say tighter gun laws won’t keep those like Cruz bent on killing from getting firearms, and that the focus should be on mental health, not law-abiding gun owners.
Jim Irvine, president of the Buckeye Firearms Association, has called proposed legislation that would put a statewide ban on assault weapons in Ohio “an insane idea.”
That legislation, proposed by State Sens. Michael Skindell and Charleta Tavares, both Democrats, would ban automatic and semi-automatic weapons with magazines that hold more than 10 bullets.
“It just doesn’t work and our kids deserve a solution that does work," Irvine said, suggesting those worried about school shootings should focus on mental illness.
But activists say focusing on mental illness alone puts unfair stigma on the mentally ill and doesn’t account for the carnage in Florida and elsewhere.
A few days after surviving the shooting, Gonzales began speaking out, demanding new laws to curb gun violence.
“They say tougher guns laws do not decrease gun violence,” Gonzales said in a Feb. 17 speech at a rally in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “We call BS. They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS. They say guns are just tools like knives and are as dangerous as cars. We call BS. They say no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS. That us kids don't know what we're talking about, that we're too young to understand how the government works. We call BS.”
By the following Sunday, organizers including Gonzales and other survivors, as well as families of the deceased from the Parkland tragedy, had announced the March for Our Lives in Washington.
“This is not just a mental health issue,” Gonzales said. “He wouldn’t have harmed that many students with a knife.”
Cincinnatians will get a chance to voice their views next month. More than 260 people have indicated via Facebook they’ll attend the local March for Our Lives event since it was announced Monday.
Some students aren't waiting. A few local schools, including Walnut Hills High School, saw student walkouts today in protest of political inaction on the issue of gun violence.