Fil-Ams in NY join massive call for stricter gun control
NEW YORK—The youth are often said to be the “hope of the future,” but the young people of this generation are proving themselves a force to be reckoned with as early as now.
Nearly 200,000 students, teachers, advocates and residents turned out March 24 in Central Park for the “March for Our Lives” rally in support of the national effort to end gun violence and mass shootings in schools. Tens of thousands of protesters in 800 cities around the world held their own rally advocating for stricter gun control.
Among the protesters demanding sensible gun safety laws to protect schools and communities were Filipino Americans Maria Kaufer, a dietician from Forest Hills in Queens, and her 14-year-old son.
“I’m here marching to protect the children and to promote safety and gun control,” she told INQUIRER.net in a brief interview as they were marching along Sixth Avenue in Manhattan.
The nephew of Kaufer’s husband is a student at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where a former student opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle last February 14. The shooting killed at least 17 people and sent hundreds of students fleeing into the streets, making it the nation’s deadliest since 2012 when a 20-year-old attacked an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
With 13 dead at Columbine, 26 dead at Sandy Hook and just last month, 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, more than 187,000 students have been exposed to gun violence in school since 1999, The Washington Post has pointed out.
“Why is it that it’s harder to adopt a puppy than it is to own a gun in the United States of America?,” asked Kaufer. “And just to be smart about it, we already have a license to drive a car—just because you’re required to wear a seatbelt and to obey speed laws, doesn’t mean anyone is trying to take away your car. So just because you want to promote safety for everybody, that doesn’t mean we’re trying to take away your guns.”
Jordy, Kaufer’s son who goes to Russell Sage Junior High in Queens, thinks the march “is good, to help stop gun violence and protects all the kids.” He also challenges President Donald Trump to “do more to stop gun violence.”
Meghan Bonner, a teen survivor of the Stoneman Douglas shooting, was among the many students who took the stage in New York. She was introduced by her mother, Julie, who broke down in tears while narrating her daughter’s ordeal.
“The fear you feel when you cannot protect your child and see they are safe, will change you forever,” she said in her emotional speech. “You will exchange your life for theirs in a split second, no questions asked. We as parents suffer in silence. We don’t want to show our fear, but none will ever be the same for us. No parent or child should ever have to live through what the parents did that day February 14 in Parkland.”
“I was in my Math class on the second floor [of] our building when everything went down,” said Meghan who remained calm “because the kids next to me were freaking out… then the shooter banged on our door trying to get us all up in the hallway.”
“There was so much more that could have been done to prevent this, I want to see change,” she said in a stirring plea for an end to gun violence.
On the street, many of the participants called on Trump, lawmakers and those who take contributions from the National Rifle Association to take action. They expressed their sentiments in placards with messages such as “Thoughts and prayers are not enough,” “Arms are for hugging,” “Protect kids not guns,” “The NRA is getting away with murder,” “Vote them out,” “Fire Trump, not guns,” and “Enough is enough”.
For young Fil-Am couple Jonathan and Sheila Sarmiento, who joined the march, it was important to stand in solidarity with the youth who are leading the charge for sensible gun legislation and policy.
“It’s clear that we’ve all had enough with the complacency of our government to not do anything about gun control in this country,” Sarmiento, a graphic designer from Harlem, told INQUIRER.net. “My wife Sheila and I felt it was important to add our voices to this discussion and to let the youth know that enough is truly enough when it comes to the lack of serious gun control legislation. This is a call to action, and one that we can’t be silent about.”
“This is truly a youth movement, not just a youth moment. I sincerely hope this fervor for change can be sustained and ultimately turned into votes come November and beyond. We aim to vote out those who aren’t serious about significant gun control laws and champion those who believe in a future where our children can feel safe going to school. Change is on the horizon and, hopefully, for the better,” he added.
According to Sarmiento, they want NRA and gun owners to understand “that no one wants to take away their guns.”
“Our second amendment ensures them this right, but we do need to re-examine what this 18th century law means in this 21st century world. What we want is sensible gun control legislation that will keep us safe. A start would be to ban weapons that are meant for war or to enforce true universal background checks. The fact that guns apparently seem to have more rights than many people in this country is ludicrous. Owning and driving a car seems to have more regulation than owning a gun. We need to address this significant imbalance, and we need to do it now,” he said.
Justin de la Cruz, a Fil-Am sophomore at SUNY Maritime College, feels the same sense of urgency and wants U.S. legislators to address the recent school shootings by strengthening gun control laws.
“Today’s rally is truly inspiring and how they want to push for policy change,” de la Cruz told INQUIRER.net. “It’s going to happen, and all it takes is change from within. And they’re trying to push the justice administration especially the representatives of New York and it’ll dissipate throughout the United States and we’re going to have gun control by possibly five years.”
Meanwhile, the White House responded to the demonstrations in a statement. “We applaud the many courageous young Americans exercising their First Amendment rights today,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters said in a statement.
“Keeping our children safe is a top priority of the President’s, which is why he urged Congress to pass the Fix NICS and STOP School Violence Acts, and signed them into law. Additionally, on Friday, the Department of Justice issued the rule to ban bump stocks following through on the President’s commitment to ban devices that turn legal weapons into illegal machine guns.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted, “You have to know when a revolution is starting.”