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'We have a problem': Hundreds rally in Fargo calling for reforms to curb gun violence

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Local protestrs against gun violence walk along Broadway during the March for Our Lives rally in downtown Fargo on Saturday, March 24, 2018.David Samson / The Forum2 / 12
Kristen Soule of Fargo puts the finishing touches on a sign during the March for Our Lives rally on Saturday, March 24, 2018, at the Sanctuary Events Center in downtown Fargo.David Samson / The Forum3 / 12
James Bergman performs during the March for Our Lives rally on Saturday, March 24, 2018, at the Sanctuary Events Center in downtown Fargo.David Samson / The Forum4 / 12
Teacher Shaina Eagleson speaks during the March for Our Lives rally on Saturday, March 24, 2018, at the Sanctuary Events Center in downtown Fargo.David Samson / The Forum5 / 12
Participants listen to speakers during the March for Our Lives rally on Saturday, March 24, 2018, at the Sanctuary Events Center in downtown Fargo.David Samson / The Forum6 / 12
Local protestrs against gun violence walk along Broadway during the March for Our Lives rally in downtown Fargo on Saturday, March 24, 2018.David Samson / The Forum7 / 12
Cheryl Miller from Moms Demand Action ND speaks during the March for Our Lives rally on Saturday, March 24, 2018, at the Sanctuary Events Center in downtown Fargo.David Samson / The Forum8 / 12
Participants listen to speakers during the March for Our Lives rally on Saturday, March 24, 2018, at the Sanctuary Events Center in downtown Fargo.David Samson / The Forum9 / 12
Local protestrs against gun violence walk along 1st Ave. N. during the March for Our Lives rally in downtown Fargo on Saturday, March 24, 2018.David Samson / The Forum10 / 12
Fargo Davies senior Madeline Cano displays signage during the March for Our Lives rally on Saturday, March 24, 2018, at the Sanctuary Events Center in downtown Fargo.David Samson / The Forum11 / 12
A participant holds a simple sign during the March for Our Lives rally on Saturday, March 24, 2018, at the Sanctuary Events Center in downtown Fargo.David Samson / The Forum12 / 12

FARGO – Sarah Light said she’s tired of hearing more guns would reduce gun violence. Instead, the Fargo North High School student said the goal should be fewer guns.

“The first step is to accept that we have a problem,” Light said.

Light and other local students, teachers and leaders spoke at Sanctuary Events Center, 670 Fourth Ave. N., on Saturday, March 24, as more than 800 March for Our Lives rallies took place around the world.

The Fargo event, organized by Moms Demand Action FM, started with a rally that drew more than 300 people and concluded with a march through downtown Fargo.

National nonpartisan group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was launched after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed 27 people. But Cheryl Biller, leader of the North Dakota chapter, said local offshoots became active more recently, especially following the Feb. 14 school shooting that killed 17 people in Parkland, Fla.

She said the rally was meant to back up students leading the call to address gun violence as young people have put on large rallies in communities across the country. That included a March 14 national walkout observed by some students at several Fargo-Moorhead schools.

Many attendees made signs for the march ranging from the politically pointed, such as “The right to bear arms meant muskets not machine guns!” and “Thoughts and prayers are not bulletproof,” to the hopeful, including “The kids will lead us.”

Sarah Arnold, a 25-year-old arts educator, said she wanted to be in the crowd to show her support for survivors of gun violence, and she was surprised by the large turnout.

“It’s encouraging,” she said.

Biller said the rally was all about what young Americans are doing.

“Let us be very clear: This is a student-led march, and we are here in support of them,” she said.

Most students who spoke read accounts of the Parkland shooting from the teenagers who were in the school, ending each account with a rallying cry: “Never again.”

Teacher and Moms Demand Action local leader Shaina Eagleson said some lawmakers, including Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., have suggested arming teachers could be part of the solution.

Instead, she said the nation should “arm” schools with more teachers, counselors and school resource officers while also looking into expanded background checks, red flag laws and raising the minimum age for gun purchases.

State Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, a Democrat who represents a Fargo district in the North Dakota House, said school shootings are getting a lot of attention at the moment. Still, she said that’s not the only problem area.

About 90 percent of North Dakota’s gun deaths over the past five years were suicides, she said, and guns can escalate domestic violence incidents.

“Thoughts and prayers are important, but we can’t stop there,” she said. “We must act.”

Grace Brennan shared her perspective as a fifth-grade teacher, telling the crowd that her students recently rearranged the classroom.

“Afterwards, one of them came up to me and said, ‘Miss Brennan, I don't think this will work. It's going to be a lot harder to barricade the door if there's a lockdown,’ ” she said.

Brennan said she’s “heartbroken” those lockdown procedures are even necessary.

“This is more than we should be asking from our kids,” she said.

Light encouraged attendees to push for “real steps,” including making it harder to get guns.

“You may be thinking they’re just going to find another way,” she said. “Well, to that I say let them find another way. Let them figure out how to kill dozens of people a minute with a damn steak knife because I’m tired of making it easy for them.”

Global action

According to Biller, 842 March for Our Lives marches took place Saturday. Events happened in every state, as well as several other countries across the globe.

About 150 people turned out for a rally in Bismarck on Saturday, laying 17 backpacks on the steps of the North Dakota State Library to symbolize the 17 people who were killed in the Parkland shooting last month.

In St. Paul, police said an estimated 18,000 people marched from Harriet Island Regional Park to the state Capitol building.

Organizers of the march in Washington, D.C., hoped to draw 500,000 people on Saturday.

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson has been a Forum reporter since 2012 and previously wrote for the Grand Forks Herald.

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